Charlie the dog gets his own Elanco security pass
Assistance dogs play a vital role in supporting children with learning difficulties, providing emotional support and boosting self-esteem and confidence. Here, Cathryn Simpson of UK charity Dogs for Good talks through how these extraordinary companions are trained.

At Dogs for Good, we explore ways in which dogs can help people overcome their challenges. I think we’ve only scratched the surface of the huge potential these companions have in enriching the lives of a whole range of people.

Right now, we have 167 Assistance Dogs working in partnership with adults with differing disabilities, 69 working with children with disabilities, 63 working with families with a child with autism and 1 working with an adult with dementia. We’re also supporting more than 1000 families with a child with autism through our Family Dog service providing advice to help them with a pet dog.

All of our assistance dogs start out as puppies, living  in a volunteers home, being socialised and trained ready for their work ahead.  One of these puppies, currently in the middle of his training, is Charlie. He’s a seven-month-old Labrador puppy who’s been living with David, his ‘puppy socialiser’, since last September. David has been preparing Charlie for his Assistance Dog training, meaning the pair have been going everywhere together. Charlie has already been on the train, the bus, down to the shops, and even down the pub.

And on his latest outing, he went to visit the Elanco team at Lilly House in Basingstoke, where he caused quite a stir. Charlie has another six months left with David before heading off back to Dogs for Good to begin his formal training. In those six months, David will try to expose Charlie to as many new sights and sounds (and smells!) as possible, to get him used to new and unusual situations. He’s also been teaching him some basic commands, such as ‘sit’, ‘lie down’.

So what’s next for Charlie? Once his formal training begins, the team at Dogs for Good will begin to assess him to see where his talents best fit. He’ll start to learn all the vital skills he’ll need such as picking up dropped items, fetching the phone, loading and unloading the washing machine and helping someone to dress and undress.

He’ll then be taught how to distract or comfort a child with autism who is either angry, anxious or distressed, while also being trained in how to protect them when out and about.

When he’s two years old, Charlie will be a fully qualified assistance dog, and we will assign him to a home where his newly-learned skills can be put to great use. Charlie will be one of more than 300 dogs in communities across the UK, providing invaluable support to a growing number of people.

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