Guide and assistance dog insurance

Eve Powell
Eve Powell
Updated 6 May 2022  | 5 mins read

Guide dogs and assistance dogs can help you to navigate the world, so finding the right pet insurance is vital.

It can help to cover the cost of veterinary treatment and keep your faithful friend by your side.

Key points

  • Even though assistance dogs have been professionally trained, they’re still at risk of illness and injury
  • Pet insurance can help to protect your dog and your finances if they need treatment
  • Most standard pet insurance policies won’t cover working dogs
  • Specialist insurance policies are available, but they’ll typically cost more

What is a guide dog?

A guide dog is a dog that has been given special training so that it can lead blind and visually impaired people.

Professional guide dog trainers carefully select puppies that have the right traits - they need to be outgoing, intelligent, obedient, calm and keen to please their handler.

Puppies are socialised and trained over several months. At around 14 months, when they’re close to the end of their training, they’re carefully matched to a person who’ll be their owner.

Once partnered up, they’ll spend many weeks together. The trainer will help them get to know each other and teach the dog the routes and places their person needs to get to.

Do guide dogs need pet insurance?

Guide dogs can make an enormous difference to your life if you’re visually impaired. But despite their specialist training, they can still be at risk of injury or illness.

The cost of a guide dog and their training is entirely covered through charitable donations, and this can also contribute to their ongoing care.

Once you’re partnered with a guide dog, you can choose whether to pay towards some or all of the costs of looking after them.

If you’re able to do this, it’s a good idea to take out a pet insurance policy to help pay for treatment and keep your guide dog safely by your side.

You should be able to get advice and information on the type of dog insurance your guide dog requires through the charity, as you’ll need a specialist policy.

Are guide dogs the same as assistance dogs?

Assistance dogs support people with disabilities or those who have certain medical conditions to help them with their day-to-day activities.

Guide dogs fall into the assistance dog category.

Most of these specially trained dogs wear high vis or specific-coloured harnesses to make them instantly recognisable.

Training can take up to two years. Once completed, they can assist with tasks that help their owners to keep their independence - as well as boosting their overall well-being.

What other types of assistance dogs are there?

To match the diversity of needs and disabilities, there are different types of service dogs that are trained to help people with specific tasks, these include:

Hearing dogs

As well as helping the visually impaired, dogs can also be trained to help deaf people.

Hearing dogs can be trained to alert their owners when the phone or doorbell rings, if a smoke alarm or oven timer goes off and even when a baby is crying.

To help let people know that they’re a hearing dog, they sometimes wear burgundy jackets when they’re out and about with their owner.

Dog AID (Assistance in Disability)

Dogs can be trained to specifically help people with mobility impairments. They can help with everything from opening doors to turning on lights and fetching items for their owners.

Often larger breeds are used because they can help to support their owners’ weight and provide them with some balance.

When they’re out and about, AID dogs wear red jackets to show they’re assistance dogs for physically disabled adults.

Autism assistance dogs

Dogs can also help children and people living with autism, providing support as they engage with the world around them.

Using their trained skills and providing a calming focus, they help their owners to cope with challenges, manage their anxiety and grow in confidence.

Many autistic children have little sense of danger and can bolt or wander off. The dogs can help by regulating walking speed and are trained to respond to unsafe behaviours.

Autism assistance dogs wear blue jackets when they’re out in public.

Diabetic alert assistance dogs

These canine friends are trained to detect when their type 1 diabetic owner experiences dangerous changes to their blood sugar levels.

Using their heightened sense of smell, they can sense when this happens and alert their owner or members of the household.

The dogs will even sense this in the middle of the night, waking their owner up to let them know about serious changes that might not otherwise be detected.

What are the best breeds for guide dogs?

Only a small number of breeds have the right qualities suitable for the complex job of being a guide dog.

The most common breeds used as guide dogs are:

  1. Golden retriever

    Easy to train, while also being friendly, relaxed and good workers when they’re given a job, golden retrievers often make excellent guide dogs

  2. Labrador retriever

    Intelligent and loyal, Labradors are often crossed with golden retrievers to combine the traits of both breeds to produce quality guide dogs

  3. German shepherd

    Devoted, intuitive and highly intelligent, this breed is often used for police and service dogs and can also be a perfect partner for a visually impaired person

What should my guide dog insurance cover?

Pet insurance can help cover the costs of care and treatment if your guide dog becomes unexpectedly ill or suffers an injury.

A good policy usually offers cover for:

  • Vet fees from £1,500 up to £12,000 a year - depending on the level of cover you choose
  • Emergency boarding cover - if you fall ill and need emergency accommodation for your guide dog
  • Lost and found – to cover the costs of advertising and a reward for their safe return
  • Holiday cancellation - provides cover if you have to cancel or cut short your holiday because your guide dog is seriously ill
  • Dog liability insurance - if your dog injures someone or damages someone’s property
  • Taking your guide dog abroad - this can be taken out as an optional extra and can cover the cost of vet care in certain European countries up to the limit on your policy

For extra peace of mind, you might want to consider lifetime pet insurance. This offers the most comprehensive level of protection and covers any chronic or recurring conditions during your guide dog’s lifetime.

Do ex-assistance dogs make good pets?

Some dogs turn out to be better companions than assistance dogs, so they’re withdrawn from training.

Or they may be retired from their duties, which usually happens after six or seven years of service.

One of the reasons these special dogs were chosen for their support roles is because they love spending time with people, are keen to please and enjoy being by your side.

As a result, ex-assistance dogs can make excellent pets and become a wonderful and loyal addition to your family.

What is a working dog?

A working dog is a dog that’s trained to perform practical tasks. Generally lively breeds, they’re chosen because they have the physical qualities, stamina and natural instincts to work hard.

These dogs play an essential role in assisting their owners and handlers in working situations.

Their attributes make them ideal for canine roles like working farm dogs, gundogs, search and rescue dogs, and security dogs.

Can I get pet insurance for working dogs?

Most standard dog insurance policies won’t cover working dogs. This is because they’re more likely to injure themselves as a result of the specific tasks they perform.

Specialist working dog policies are available, but they often cost more to cover the extra risk.

You may find cheaper policies that don’t cover the dog having an accident while it’s working - but you could ultimately end up paying a high price if you have to cover vet fees.

What type of working dogs are there?

Working dogs can perform a wide variety of useful and important roles, including:

  • Police dogs
  • Sheep dogs
  • Hunting dogs
  • Gun dogs
  • Detection dogs
  • Guard dogs
  • Search and rescue dogs

What breeds are best for working dogs?

Working dogs are typically medium to large in size and have traits which include intelligence, agility, confidence and the ability to pay close attention.

Some of the most popular working dog breeds are:

  • Border collie
  • German shepherd
  • Pointer
  • English cocker spaniel
  • Labrador retriever

Do I need insurance for my therapy dog?

Therapy dogs are different to assistance dogs and aren’t professionally trained to perform a specific set of tasks for one person.

Instead, therapy dogs are typically pet dogs that are used to improve self-esteem, increase confidence and boost well-being - they’ll often be taken to places to provide comfort.

If you own a therapy dog, you should take out pet insurance.

As well as covering costs for unexpected illness and injuries, your policy should also include public liability insurance to cover you and your dog when you’re visiting therapy locations.

Not all insurance policies will cover therapy dogs, so check with your insurer before you start making visits.

What should I consider when insuring assistance or a working dog?

Pet insurance can protect both your dog’s health and your finances if it becomes ill or gets injured.

When you’re taking out cover, you’ll need to consider whether you want your dog to be covered for any accident or injury that happens while they’re working.

Most standard policies won’t cover this and specialist ones that do will typically cost more.

You’ll also need to choose the level of excess - the higher the excess, the lower your premium is likely to be.

Cover and exclusions will vary between providers so it’s always best to shop around.

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