From Puppy to Partner
It takes many months of extensive training before a puppy is ready to start its life as an assistance dog. Peter Gorbing, CEO of UK charity Dogs for Good, explains how a playful puppy will become an important partner for those who need some support

When a puppy is 7 to 8 weeks old, it will be placed in the home of a volunteer puppy socialiser, who looks after him for 16 – 18 months. These socialisers are tasked with caring for the puppy’s wellbeing including carrying out routine health checks, ensuring he is the correct weight, and grooming. Slowly they start to train the pup, extending tasks and training each month.

When the dog is old enough to leave the socialiser, the next phase starts and the dog moves into the training centre, where he works daily with one of our dog trainers to:

• Develop his obedience – ensure the dog is responding to commands accurately and consistently
• Introduce various requirements that a client will have such as walking next to a wheelchair
• Teach him the task work he will carry out for his new owner e.g. retrieving dropped items.

Trainer Becky comments on one of the dogs she trains, Uno: “He enjoys his task work, especially opening doors and pushing footplates. And he loves having a cuddle and sitting on your lap.” Becky adds how appreciative she is to work with these dogs. “I am pleased that I can train these dogs, so that they can later make our clients feel better, from motivating them to try new activities or confronting daunting situations to boosting confidence and self-esteem.”  

Once a dog has passed all its training assessments, an Instructor will observe the dog in order to learn about the dog’s likes, dislikes, strengths and areas for development. This is important, so that the dog will be matched to the right person.
The matching process is a crucial part of making sure the partnership between dog and person is a success. It takes place around the third week of advanced training. The Instructor will know the needs of applicants waiting for a dog so they will have an idea of who will be a good match. They then test the dog in any areas specific to the requirements of that applicant.

The Instructor then brings the dog to an applicant’s home for them to meet. During this matching visit they also go on a walk to ensure the applicant is comfortable and happy with the dog. A mutual decision is then made to decide if the dog chosen is the right dog for the applicant.

If things go right, a new life awaits both the dog and his new partner.

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