Skip to main content Skip to navigation

Let's Talk About Assistance Dogs

In this instalment of 'Let's Talk About Disability', we are talking about Assistance Dogs.

Annually in August, International Assistance Dog Week (IADW) is celebrated. IADW was created to recognize all the devoted, hardworking assistance dogs helping individuals mitigate their disability related limitations.

Assistance dogs are highly-trained animals whose job it is to help a disabled handler traverse the world around them. They come in all shapes and sizes, though Labradors and Golden Retrievers are by far the most common, pretty much any breed of dog can be trained to mitigate a disability.

7,000 people in the UK rely on an assistance dog, the majority of whom are guide dog handlers, but also include dogs trained to help wheelchairs users, people with other physical disabilities, deaf or autistic people, as well as medical detection.

    Not familiar with this instalment's theme? Find out more by clicking below:

    What is an assistance dog?

    The Equality and Human Rights Commission states that Assistance Dogs:

    • are not pets and are treated as “auxiliary aids”,
    • are highly trained,
    • will not wander freely around the premises,
    • will sit or lie quietly on the floor next to their owner and are trained to go to the toilet on command and so are unlikely to foul in a public place.
    • Most are instantly recognisable by the harness or identifying dog jacket they wear.

    Source: EHRC - Assistance dogs: a guide for all businesses.


    What assistance dogs can do

    Assistance animals, who are sometimes called ‘service animals’ overseas, include:

    • Dogs trained to perform daily personal care tasks (for example, retrieving or carrying items, opening and closing doors, switching lights on and off, pulling laundry from washing machines) or mobility assistance (for example, pulling wheelchairs or helping with balance) for people with physical disabilities including cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis, or suffering long-term impacts after a serious accident.
    • Guide (or ‘seeing eye’) dogs to assist people with vision impairments to move around safely.
    • Hearing (or ‘hearing ear’) dogs to alert people with hearing impairments.
    • Medical alert dogs (such as for the detection of impending seizures in people with epilepsy or of blood sugar changes in people with diabetes).
    • Psychiatric assistance dogs to interrupt anxiety, alert to triggering situations and wake from a nightmare for people with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) or other mental health related disabilities, traumatic brain injury, etc.

    Source: RSPCA - What is an assistance animal?

    How to behave around assistance dogs

    Many people don’t know how to act around assistance dogs, but the etiquette is pretty simple - pretend the dog is not there, just the person. You’ll be able to tell a working dog by the harness or jacket they’re wearing, or by the special slip on their lead.

    Assistance dogs are highly trained working dogs, performing tasks to assist disabled people to enable their owners to be independent.

    Distracting a dog in any way can be dangerous for the handler, so never you shouldn't:

    • Touch or feed an assistance dog, unless invited to do so by their owner.
    • Deliberately distract or startle an assistance dog.
    • Separate or attempt to separate an assistance dog from the person using their service.

    Assistance dogs are mobility aids - very cute, fluffy ones, but mobility aids nonetheless!

    Assistance Dog Policy

    The University of Warwick generally prohibits individuals from bringing animals inside any University owned, leased or controlled buildings, vehicles or structures.

    However, the University recognises that an animal (an “Assistance Animal”), usually a dog (an “Assistance Dog”), kept and used by a disabled person (as defined by the Equality Act 2010) wholly or mainly for the purpose of assisting that person to carry out day to day activities, will require access to the University’s estate, relevant buildings and University owned, leased or controlled student accommodation.

    Our Assistance Dog Policy outlines our approach to accomodating assistance dogs on campus.

    Accessibility updates

    We have dedicated Accessibility Updates webpages to update our community on our accessibility Initiatives as well as important updates that may affect accessibility at the University. You can subscribe to email notifications directly from the webpage when new news items are added to keep up to date.

    Students' Union

    Find out more about the work of the Students' Union Disabled Students’ Officer and Warwick Enable - the disability liberation and campaigning society on campus for disabled students, their friends, allies and carers or enablers, and anyone who is passionate about disability and inclusivity.

    Staff Network

    Join the Disabled Staff Network. The network is open to all staff members with an interest in making the University a more accessible place for all and creating a more inclusive environment.


    If you feel that you need a Personal Emergency Evacuation Plan (PEEP) for safe evacuation of a building in an emergency the Independent Assessment Tool will help the University identify the appropriate emergency response requirements and the assistance you may require.


    Get adjustments to support you in your work or studies.

    • Adjustments for staff: MAP is a tool to help you to have meaningful and confidential conversations with your line manager or other University representative.
    • Adjustments for students: Disability Services can support you to access a range of adjustments, exam arrangements, advice, and one to one study skills support.

    BDF resources

    As members of the Business Disability Forum, the University has access to a range of Member Resources including toolkits, factsheets, case studies, videos, and webinars to help you understand more about how to be disability inclusive. Just sign up with your University email address to get a free account.

    Membership also grants us unlimited access to BDF's confidential Advice Service, a team of expert advisers who are enthusiastic about improving disabled people’s experiences of employment and users of services.