Ever since dogs found hunter-gatherers’ campsites a good place to scavenge and decided to adopt humans, we have created roles for them: hunting, protecting property, mountain rescue, companionship, and as ‘assistance dogs’.
No doubt dogs have been helping people with poor vision for millennia, but it was a German doctor looking after soldiers blinded by gas who in 1916 started the first formal training scheme. Fifteen years later two British dog breeders, Rosamund Bond and Muriel Crooke, trained the first four British guide dogs for the blind. Now there are 5000.
It isn’t a great leap to training dogs to assist people with hearing loss – there are 900 deaf dogs partnerships – or with neurological and degenerative diseases, or seriously disabling injuries – Hounds for Heroes provides dogs for ex-servicemen. Dogs can be trained to pick up the TV remote, flush the loo and empty the washing machine. They can retrieve cash from an ATM and help their owner turn over in bed. And they can put their own feeding bowls in the sink and tidy away their own toys. Well ahead of most human teenagers, then.