Assistance dogs

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Find out about the type of assistance dogs available and how to apply for one.

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What is an assistance dog

An assistance dog falls within the definition of 'assistance animal' in section 9 of the Disability Discrimination Act 1992. It also meets the standards set out by Assistance Dogs International (ADI).

These dogs:

  • are individually trained in obedience
  • can perform at least 3 defined tasks that ease your impairment
  • can pass a Public Access Test (PAT).

PAT is the minimum standard an assistance dog must meet to be considered safe and effective in accessing public places and public passenger vehicles.

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What types do we offer

We offer 4 types of assistance dogs. These dogs are individually trained to perform work or tasks directly related to your disability and they must be prescribed by your treating health provider. DVA contracted dog suppliers will not train a client’s dog under the DVA Program.

Guide dogs

If you are blind or visually impaired, guide dogs help you live independently. They are trained to travel on public transport and support you in public settings.

Hearing dogs

These dogs help you by alerting you to sounds, such as alarm clocks, kitchen timers, smoke and fire alarms, the presence of other people and approaching vehicles. If you are deaf, hearing dogs are trained to make physical contact and lead you to the source of the sound.

Mobility dogs

This type of dog helps you with mobility impairment to achieve independence in and around the home. They also help you participate in society. They perform tasks such as opening and closing doors, retrieving items and activating switches.

Mobility dogs do not replace a carer but may reduce caring needs significantly.

Psychiatric assistance dogs

These dogs are trained to perform tasks to help you achieve your clinical recovery goals. This includes detecting signs of distress and performing tasks to help alleviate the symptoms.

Read more about our Psychiatric Assistance Dog Program and how to apply.

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How we decide if you are eligible

To determine if you are eligible, your treating health provider should refer to the RAP National Guidelines - Assistance Dogs

If they believe you are suitable for an assistance dog, they will need to complete the assistance dog application form.

Approval is a 2-step process

Step 1

Your treating health provider must complete the assistance dog application form and attach any supporting documentation.

Once they have submitted your application, we will assess it to determine if you will progress to Step 2.

Sometimes the progress of your application can be delayed. This may happen if the request form is incomplete, or your treating health provider has not provided all the supporting documents.

Step 2

If we provide you with conditional approval, we will refer you to one of our contracted dog suppliers. They will do a face-to-face assessment with you to consider:

  • if you are suitable to participate in their training program
  • if your home is suitable for an assistance dog
  • areas where an assistance dog could meet your needs.

This assessment will help us gain a better understanding of your needs to match you with a suitable dog. It will also help us to decide if you are suitable for our Program.

You are a serving member

As an ADF member, your health treatment should generally be provided under the ADF’s health care arrangements.

Before you submit an application to us, you should discuss your need for an assistance dog with your treating health provider and the ADF. For us to consider your application, you must provide written approval from the Chief of Defence Force or an appropriate delegate.

You are a discharging member

If you are transitioning from the ADF, you can start the assistance dog application process before discharging. Your treating health provider can help you with your application, which must include evidence of your ADF approved discharge date.

If you plan to relocate after discharging, you may like to consider waiting to submit your application. This way, the application process will consider your new living arrangements and support network which may be better suited to an assistance dog.

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What type of accommodation is suitable

If you live in an aged care home, retirement village or lifestyle park, you will need to provide a letter from the property owner or manager with their agreement to you having the assistance dog at the property. Your health professional must include this letter along with the request form. You will also need to make sure there is an appropriate space for the dog to toilet and exercise.

If you rent your home or live in an apartment or unit, you may be required to tell your property manager of your intentions.

We have provided a template letter for you to use.

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How to care for an assistance dog

It is important to understand the commitment involved in training and caring for an assistance dog. A veteran who graduated with their assistance dog commented, ‘You have to be on the ball when you have an assistance dog’. Having an assistance dog is different to a companion dog and takes a lot of hard work and commitment from you.

During the application process, you will need to demonstrate that you have:

  • a living environment suitable for an assistance dog
  • the ability and resilience to participate in an intensive training program
  • the ability to provide ongoing care for the assistance dog
  • an on-hand support network to help you care for the assistance dog if you need it.

Once you graduate with your assistance dog and custodianship is handed over, you are then responsible for its wellbeing. This includes ensuring your assistance dog is:

  • fed appropriately
  • exercised daily
  • regularly toileted outside
  • washed and groomed regularly
  • kept up to date with their annual veterinary check
  • vaccinated as directed by your veterinary clinic.
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What we pay for

When you are approved for an assistance dog, we pay for:

  • the supply of the trained assistance dog, including set-up equipment
  • all necessary training for you as the assistance dog handler
  • all travel and accommodation you, your assistance dog or the dog supplier need during the training program
  • a welfare check completed by the assistance dog supplier every 6 months
  • an annual Public Access Test (PAT) and the assistance dog registration completed by the assistance dog supplier
  • ongoing training of the assistance dog and you as needed.

DVA contracted dog suppliers will not train a client’s dog under the DVA Program.

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What you can claim

If you have received an assistance dog provided by us, you can get reimbursed for the costs needed to maintain its welfare. These include:

  • veterinary costs
  • annual vaccinations, worming and flea treatments
  • dog food
  • pet insurance
  • reasonable costs of upkeep and maintenance, for example dog grooming.

You must show paid, itemised receipts and there is a quarterly limit of $603.

If you have any unexpected out-of-pocket expenses over the quarterly limit, you can seek approval from us beforehand to see if we can reimburse this amount. It could be such things as the gap between your vet bill and the amount you get from your pet insurance.

You should:

We do not refund costs for assistance dogs obtained outside of DVA arrangements.

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When you are travelling with an assistance dog

By law, you can access public places and travel on public transport with your assistance dog. But there are some exceptions, including:

  • where your assistance animal has an infectious disease and denying you access is reasonably necessary to protect public health or other animals
  • where allowing you access would impose an ‘unjustifiable hardship’, such as where access would cause major difficulties or unreasonable costs
  • where the operator or pilot in command of a flight reasonably believes that the assistance animal may have an adverse effect on the safety of the flight.

When you’re out in public, make sure your dog is wearing its assistance dog coat. This helps to show your dog is not a pet but a working assistance dog. You can also show your ID handler card, which identifies you as your dog’s certified handler.

Find out more about your rights from our:

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When you need to return an assistance dog

If you no longer want or are unable to have an assistance dog, your supplier will organise for your dog to be returned.

Returning an assistance dog does not stop you from reapplying in the future. If your circumstances change and you would like to reapply for the Program, you should talk to your treating health professional about submitting a new application.

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When your assistance dog retires

Assistance dogs normally have a working life of 8 to 11 years. Your assistance dog supplier or vet will be able to advise you when your dog is nearing retirement. When your assistance dog has around 2 years of service remaining, it is a good idea to discuss this with your treating health professional. You should talk about putting in a new application to us for your next assistance dog.

It is also likely your clinical recovery goals have changed since your last application. Preparing in advance means you can work with our contracted assistance dog supplier to train your replacement assistance dog and ensure a smooth transition.

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