Why ignoring a dog's relentless barking could prove dangerous

·News Reporter

An incessantly barking dog is cause for irritation for most, but for a small section of the population it could be the difference between life and death.

A barking service dog likely means its owner has injured themselves or is in some kind of trouble, which is why CEO of Assistance Dogs Australia Richard Lord says it’s important people act quickly.

“Assistance dogs are trained to bark on command, so a dog’s owner passes out, it will bark,” Mr Lord told Yahoo News Australia.

Mr Lord said assistance dog owners were advised to inform neighbours and people close to them that if they heard their pet barking to come and check if they were OK.

“There are many cases where this technique has had a positive outcome and the dog owner received the help they needed,” he said.

Photo of one of the adorable hearing dogs that shan't be stroked by random individuals.
One of the adorable hearing dogs that shouldn't be stroked by random individuals. Source: Facebook/Australian Lions Hearing Dogs

Mr Lord dismissed claims people should follow a service dog that approached them on its own, instead encouraging people to take the animal to a vet immediately.

“Take hold of the dog like any other dog and take it to vet where they can read its microchip. From there they can track down the owner and provide them help,” he said.

“A lone dog isn’t always out looking for help for its owner, they’re the same as any other dog.”

In Australia, there are three main types of assistance dogs; seeing eye dogs, hearing dogs, and those trained to support people with various disabilities.

Photo of a pooch trained to be a therapy dog by Guide Dogs Australia.
A pooch trained to be a therapy dog by Guide Dogs Australia. Source: Facebook/Guide Dogs NSW/ACT
Photo of dogs trained at Australian Lions Hearing Dogs.
Dogs trained at Australian Lions Hearing Dogs. Source: Facebook/Australian Lions Hearing Dogs

Guide Dogs, which support visually impaired people, are trained to stay with their owner at all costs and are unlikely to leave their side in a crisis situation, according to Casey Walton from Guide Dogs NSW/ACT.

“If a dog is seen on its own, people can look around to locate their handler. But the first thing they should do is check the medallion on their collar for contact information,” Ms Walton told Yahoo News Australia.

It was a similar case for hearing dogs, according to CEO of Australian Lions Hearing Dogs David Horne, who said the first point of call should always be to check the animal’s identification if they were found alone.

Photo of an adorable assistance dog wearing its work uniform.
An adorable assistance dog wearing its work uniform. Source: Facebook/Assistance Dogs Australia

“Their owner might actually need some help if the dogs come up to someone on its own, so if you can make sure the assistance dog is safe, then you should check for its identification,” Mr Horne said.

He said all assistance animals wear a jacket and have a harness with emergency contact information and details saying which organisation it was accredited by.

“A member of the public should call the emergency number on the dog’s tag immediately if they suspect the owner is in trouble,” he said.

All Australian hearing dogs vary in breed and are trained at a cost of $35,000 in Adelaide Hills before being dispersed across the country for free to people in need.

Photo of hearing dogs that should never be touched by a member of the public.
Hearing dogs should never be touched by a member of the public. Facebook/Australian Lions Hearing Dogs

Mr Horne urged the public not to interact with service dogs as it could “ruin” their labour intensive training and cause a rift in the animal-owner bond.

“Dogs are performing an important role, they’re there to do a job. It might not look it, but the dog is doing an important role,” he said.

“If you spot one in public wearing a jacket, it’s important you don’t distract it in any way, and definitely don’t pat it.

“If you’re trying to communicate with its owner, you can speak to the person directly.”

He added it might be OK in very rare circumstances for someone other than the owner to interact with a service dog while at home.

Select puppies with good temperaments receive between five months and two years of training before they graduate to becoming an assistant dog.

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