Visual Assistant Dogs

12 yr old sophia walks with VA dog TimberVisual Assistant Dogs (VAD) are an interim step between a Children’s Visual Companion Dog and a full Dog Guide.  As a transition, VAD’s are used for older children (11-14 years old or so) or for adults which due to an underlying condition other than visual impairment, may be working toward a full Dog Guide, but need more time with a semi-independent structure. These life changing dogs increase confidence, self-esteem and stability, and they improve posture, gait and pace for blind and low-vision older children or otherwise impaired adults, while offering a unique and innovative means of travel.

A more motivated individual may wish to go places and explore as the result of using a VA dog as a mobility tool. The student’s mind engages in active learning while holding the harness verses a passive approach to travel when holding an adult’s hand. The student receives environmental input through the harness as well as through the cane tip (if indicated). Moving smoothly through space, feeling the dog pull to change directions or go around obstacles, and detecting surface and sound changes are all possible with this dual mode of travel.

When traveling with a dog, families have reported more positive interactions with the public. Instead of the student receiving remarks of pity, the conversations tend to be focused on capabilities. Parents become a more active participant in the Orientation and Mobility training for the student; promoting a positive attitude toward a skill that is necessary to be an independent adult who actively engages in community and personal interests.

Orientation and Mobility is the foundation that supports the child’s lifetime pursuits of independence and happiness. Being able to travel independently will affect all aspects of the student’s future. Traveling often and to a wide variety of places teaches how fun it is to get out into the world to enjoy people and experiences. Using a VA dog and engaging the family as more active members of this O&M process has the potential to increase confidence and motivation in the area of travel skills.

We are currently reviewing student applications for visual assistant dog placements. If you would like to apply for an OccuPaws’ VA Dog, please complete our VAD Student Application (Word Document) or our VAD Student Application (PDF) or please Contact Us for additional information.