Life as a ‘Dog for the Disabled’ puppy

Trips on trains, visits to school, and helping with the weekly shop. It may not sound like it, but for a Dogs for the Disabled puppy, all these activities are part of a weekly diet of socialisation that will help he or she become fully-prepared for their future role.

These pups are just starting their journey to become fully trained assistance dogs, and will go on to transform the lives of children and adults with physical disabilities and families with a child with autism. Just as Avon, a Red Fox Labrador, has for Helen and her family.

Avon, like most assistance dogs, started working just before his second birthday, but his training started at a much younger age. At 11 weeks old he went to Julia, one of the charity’s team of nearly 100 puppy socialisers who volunteer to take a puppy in to their homes for around twelve months.

During that time these wonderful families provide the little pups with love and train him or her to be obedient, polite dogs as well as give them all the experiences they require to ensure that that our pup remains cool, calm and collected in any situation.

At 14 months old Avon came into the National Training Centre in Banbury to start his formal training. Vicky, one of the charity’s trainers, worked with Avon to build his confidence and to teach practical skills using reward based methods of training.

Avon learnt to retrieve to hand any article presented to him including remote controls, keys and purses, to pull open doors and drawers, and pull zips, gloves and socks. He especially loved pushing buttons including pedestrian crossings and door buttons at the bank! Vicky also worked on Avon’s heel work and handler awareness, recall, and got him used to walking alongside a wheelchair.

After passing his assessments with flying colours, Avon went on to advanced training with instructor Helen who honed his skills to make him the perfect match for his future owner Helen.

Helen has a spinal condition that has affected her since childhood, and in recent years has had to accept that her health is never going to recover to allow her to lead what most of us consider a normally active life. Gradually her mobility is deteriorating, leaving her confined more or less full time to a wheelchair, and she has experienced an increasing amount of pain.

Before being partnered with Avon, Helen said that life had become a mere existence. “I hardly went out and after struggling to deliver the children to school I just wanted to return home and curl up in bed for the most of the day. My confidence and motivation was at an all-time low.”

One year later, Avon’s help has made a huge impact; Helen has lost over 30lbs and reduced her pain medication. “Avon is such a playful and relaxed dog. He helps by getting the washing out of the machine, closes doors and fetches dropped items, so I put less strain on my spine.

“It’s hard to imagine what life was like before Avon came and what life would be like without him. In really simple terms, Avon has given me the incentive to get out of the house and a reason to get up in the mornings. He is all I could have wished for and more.”

If you’d like to help Dogs for the Disabled to train more dogs, then why not sponsor a puppy? You can share the journey and help a pup grow up to be an assistance dog.
Visit www.dogsforthedisabled.org/sponsor.

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