Puppy education and socialisation
Puppies are carefully selected using specially developed aptitude tests, which help to identify potential assistance dogs. Essential qualities include a gentle, co-operative nature, curiosity, a strong desire to be with people and a steady temperament. Most of our puppies are from the retriever-type breeds. Labradors, Golden Retriever, Flatcoats, GSD or, in many cases, crosses between these breeds. We also select some crosses between Poodles, Labradors or Retrievers, in case a Partner has allergies or uses respiratory equipment.
We have also trained rescue puppies to become assistance dogs, such as David and canine partner Zack. We have to pay for the majority of our puppies (approx £650) and get a few kindly donated, with plans to increase the training success rate and cut costs by breeding an increased number of our own puppies.
The puppies are cared for by volunteer "Puppy Parents" from the age of eight weeks to about fourteen months. By attending weekly training classes at one of our thirteen Puppy Training Satellites nationwide, Puppy Parents learn how to socialise puppies to every environment an assistance dog might work in, such as busy streets, shops, hospitals, supermarkets and workplaces.
Puppies are taught how to problem solve, a quality crucial to successfully working as an assistance dog at an exceptionally high level.
Andy Cook, CEO, explains the three stages of training a canine partner, from pup to fully trained working assistance dog. On this first page he focuses on stage one: puppy training.
After their puppy socialisation they move to the West Sussex Training Centre and our Advanced Trainers take over!When our pups come into Advanced Training, at about 14 months old, we will then tailor-make their training to the needs of each individual. Training takes from 4-6 months and tasks will include:
- Operating a pedestrian crossing or lift button
- Loading and unloading washing machines/tumble driers
- Retrieving a wide variety of items as required, for example keys, an inhaler, crutches or a phone
- Picking chosen items off supermarket shelves
- Handing over a purse and items at the checkout
- Assisting with dressing and undressing
- Carrying out a range of emergency response procedures
The Well-Being of our dogs
Our dogs receive a huge amount of praise, love and affection throughout the training programme, and are trained using the most up-to-date positive motivational training methods. All our dogs have the opportunity to play, relax and "just be dogs" and they lead full and rewarding lives with their Partners, who provide them with the best possible care. We oversee the well-being of all our dogs throughout their entire working lives and ensure they enjoy a happy retirement, when that time comes.