International Association of
Assistance Dog Partners

K-9 Rescue Phone for 9-1-1

by Joan Froling

      Assistance dog providers who wish to furnish the K-9 Rescue Phone to a student or provide one with information on how to order it should take heed of the new contact information below. Owner trainers may also be interested in jotting down the new phone number, street addresses, email address or website url.

     Eric Hansen’s small company, Able Phone, designs and manufactures highly specialized phones incorporating the latest technological advances for people with various kinds of disabling conditions. He became aware of the need for such phones after his son sustained injuries that left him quadriplegic. Several years ago, Eric was approached by an IAADP member asking if he could design a special phone that could be operated by a service dog to call 911. I was invited to provide input on the design, as chair of IAADP’s Equipment Testing Committee. I agreed to participate in testing the prototype on service dogs at different stages in their training.

 . The first dog to call 911 was an Irish Setter who received world wide media attention and a parade at Disney World. Then years went by without news of any other service dogs in our community performing that remarkable feat. I discovered why when I attempted to teach a service dog to operate an ordinary speaker phone which had all the buttons programmed to call 911. It is all too common for service dogs, in their excitement, to paw or nudge the dialing buttons more than once. This can accidently disconnect the call your dog just placed to 911, a doctor, ambulance company, neighbor or family member in an emergency.

      Eric designed the K-9 Rescue Phone with a “dog proof” black steel plate over all the buttons for dialing a phone number. Atop the protective plate, there is a 2 ½" white button which gives your dog a big bright target in high contrast with the black color of the all the other parts. Dogs can be taught to depress this large button with pawing or with a nose nudge. I prefer the pawing method as it is easier to teach and much likelier to work on the first try.

     Once the dog paws or nudges the button with his nose, it triggers the dialing of whatever phone number you have programmed into the phone’s memory bank. Then for a period of one minute, a mechanism cleverly renders the button’s ability to dial a number inoperable. This ensures your call can’t be interrupted if the dog continues to paw or nudge the white button or accidently knocks the phone over in his excitement. A tiny flashing red light will indicate when the one minute “lockout” is engaged. When it is no longer flashing, your dog can be sent to operate the button again, this time to hang up the phone for you! His pawing will disconnect the number dialed so that incoming calls can now be received on that phone line. Again, the one minute lockout mechanism prevents Mr. Enthusiastic from accidently re-dialing 911 for you with a second swipe of his paw or nose nudge.

      Another potential problem is the fact that some dogs in their exuberance or inexperience may try to retrieve the phone by grabbing the handset before or after pawing the button. Once the handset is dislodged, conversation will automatically be switched from the speaker phone amplifiers to the handset. This will prevent the human partner who may be in bed or injured from being able to converse with the 911 operator or another party from across the room. To help avoid this problem, the handset on the K-9 Rescue phone is secured by velcro to the base. Even if the dog picks up the whole unit by the handset, then drops it, the handset remains firmly in place.

     As an additional safety feature, a 20 day battery in the base of the unit ensures you can still dial out for help in the event of a prolonged power failure or for ease of use while traveling.

      The weight of the base to which the speaker phone is mounted serves two purposes. It adds to the sturdiness of the phone, makes it more difficult to tip over. In addition, the added weight and extra bulk will discourage most dogs from attempting to retrieve the unit in the future. Most dogs will only try that stunt once.

     The phone can go with you to hotels and be connected to the phone in your room via the data port available on most units for modem use. It can be programmed to dial the front desk, where the staff, alerted in advance, can send help to your room at once if they do not hear your voice. You can make the same arrangement with 911 in your community, letting them know that if no one can be heard on the other end, to assume your service dog has placed the emergency call.

      Adding to its value or versatility, this handsome black phone is also designed for easy use by a human being. The black steel plate with the big white button can be flipped up so you can dial a different phone number if you wish. The handset can quickly be freed from its cradle by pressing down on the back of it in two places, so you can have a private conversation if desired.

All the other standard conveniences of a normal speaker phone will be present on this model.

      As for preparing an assistance dog to function as desired in an emergency, you don’t have to be a rocket scientist.

      It only takes me a few minutes to teach most dogs to paw something on command.. If you can’t tease your dog into pawing the phone, while it sits on the floor in an out of the way location, you can gently put his paw on the button, then click and treat or alternatively, just say “YES!” and give him a food reward. Try it several more times, then take a break between training sessions.

      Make a big fuss over the dog the first time he attempts to put his paw anywhere on the phone of his own accord at your urging. As soon as he gains confidence and seems willing to put his paw on the phone whenever asked to, you should start holding off on food treats till he accidently paws the white button. Reward him lavishly while the sounds of the phone dialing the number emerges from the unit. It won’t take a dog long to figure out he will only get a treat and praise if he paws the button itself. You can help speed up the learning process by lightly tapping the phone in the vicinity of the white button, praising him instantly when his paw makes contact with the desired target.

      Once a dog has the basic idea of what to do when you point to the phone and urge him to take action with the command, “Get Help,” it is simply a matter of gradually adding distance between the phone and yourself, in five foot increments, over a period of weeks. Daily practice sessions are highly recommended during this phase.

      When the dog will eagerly cross a room to carry out the command, try occasionally changing your body language by changing your position. Lie prone on the floor when you give the command. This will confuse some dogs, especially if they have been relying more on your body language in a sitting or standing position rather than on forming a word association with the task. Recruiting a friend or relative as your assistant may be of value. Have an assistant stand within ten feet of the target. If the dog mills around in confusion, the assistant can clear his or her throat to attract the dog’s attention and point to the target. But be sure that you are the only one who gives the commands. Also be sure that you are the only one who gives the dog praise and/or a treat when he completes the task, so he does not become emotionally dependent on the presence of an assistant. Consider this person as just a temporary strategy for overcoming the dog’s initial confusion. It is seldom necessary to involve an assistant for more than a few sessions.

     As soon as the dog is consistent in operating the phone on command when the two of you are alone, begin to add in normal household distractions like people, different noises such as the television or stereo, an oven timer, an alarm clock going off or the presence of other pets while the dog is working. The goal is to keep him focused on his job no matter what else may be happening around you.

     Be sure to practice the task at different times of the day and night so the dog is fully prepared to take action without regard to the time of day. If desired, additional training can be given to teach the dog to go directly to the K-9 Rescue Phone from other places in your home. Start within five feet of the K-9 Rescue Phone and work backwards in five foot increments to a different room, then another, to teach the dog the route(s) to habitually follow to reach his target. I highly recommend keeping this potentially life saving piece of equipment stationed in one spot, at home, teaching it as a Place Command, so as to prevent the dog from being confused as to where to go in a crisis. Never forget to enthusiastically praise the dog for success so as to motivate him to repeat this desirable behavior the next time he hears, “Get Help,” or whatever substitute word command you prefer..

      As experienced partners and trainers know, there is a saying, “use it or lose it,” which applies to every task the dog is taught. Knowledge on how to carry out the desired task will eventually fade from the dog’s mind if you don’t utilize it on a regular basis. Given the serious nature of this particular task, a weekly run through for the rest of the dog’s working lifespan would be prudent. Frequent practice will greatly increase your dog’s reliability when a real emergency arises.

      It may be possible to teach the dog to respond to cues other than a verbal command. I’ve read that some trainers have taught dogs to “get help” if the client falls down having a grand mall seizure. The sight of the trainer / partner falling to the ground is the cue that is initially paired with a verbal command, then the verbal command is eventually phased out. The alarm on a sleep apnea breathing device or another piece of equipment can signal the dog to respond to the beeping by operating the K-9 Rescue Phone to call 911.

        The only drawback for some will be the high cost to make the K-9 Rescue Phone. Each unit is custom built when the order is placed and tested before shipping. The unit is priced at $249.

       Perhaps I should add as a disclaimer, that I don’t make a cent from promoting this product, nor does IAADP. Rather, I consider spreading the word about where to obtain one as a public service announcement. This innovative engineering feat has brought peace of mind to a number of assistance dog partners and their families. The K-9 Rescue Phone can be a wonderful back up system for people with many different kinds of disabling conditions who don’t always remember to have a cell phone or portable phone charged up and on their person twenty four hours a day.

      No other trainer or program has shared news of the availability of a similar device with IAADP or members of Assistance Dogs International through the newsletter or the annual conference in the last decade. To the best of my knowledge, this piece of equipment is the only product of its kind available for purchase.

     I remain appreciative of all the thought and care that went into developing the K-9 Rescue Phone and refining its features. Its existence provides us with a valuable option for enhancing personal safety


Effective June 1, 2002, ABLE PHONE will have a new mailing and shipping address as well as a brand new phone number. The website and email address will not change.MAILING: Able Phone * 1246 Losser Ave. * Gridley, CA 95948

SHIPPING: Able Phone * 33 E. Gridley Rd. * Gridley, CA 95948

PHONE/FAX: 530-846-7466


email: ablephone@juno.com

website: www.ablephone.com

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