"How to break a dog" A Case Management Chronicle by Caroline Lewis.

‘The dog is broken’ are not words you expect to hear during a meeting. I was attending a video call with a dog trainer, parent of a child who has an assistance dog in training sitting in a lay-by listening to the conversation. At the end of the conversation, it was clear that the dog needed further training to be able to fulfil its role as an assistance dog.

‘Why was the dog broken?’

I can hear you ask. The answer is that consistency of approach to the continued training of the dog was not followed by both parents. They had both received training from the company, one parent had stuck religiously to the training, the other, who had previously had a family pet dog decided to use different training methods. The dog was very confused, decided it was not going to listen to either of them and was ‘broken.’

This was the first time that I had secured an assistance dog for a child, which if you have ever tried to do this will know is extremely difficult as a lot of charities, organisations will not train a dog for a child under 16 years as they need to be able to control the dog themselves and to take responsibility for the dog. However, it has made me reflect on the process.

My top tips are: -

When a parent requests that you look for an assistance dog for their child ask the questions

·        Are they really ready for a dog? ‘They’ meaning the child, siblings, and parents.

·        Will the dog cause more work for the parents?

·        Do they have the time for a dog?

·        Do they have the space for a dog?

·        Do they understand what an assistance dog is?

·        Are they clear in what they would like to dog to be trained in eg: picking up dropped items and returning them to the child?

·        Do they understand that this is not a quick process?

Considerations as a case manager

·        Discuss with the family the role of the dog.

·        Discuss with the child what they want the dog to be able to do

·        What size dog do they need.

·        Does the dog need to be non-shed due to allergies?

·        Are there funds available for dog walking, kennels, food, vets, insurance, etc

·        Do they have a suitable vehicle for the dog to travel in.

·        Does the dog need to walk alongside a wheelchair?

·        What are the client’s needs? This can influence where you get the dog from eg: Dogs for the blind, emotional support dogs.

·        Do the research as to what charities you could register an interest with.

·        Look at local charities that can train a dog in the area that the client is going to live in.

·        What is the cost for training?

·        What support does the organisation that you are going to use offer after the dog is with the client?

·        Is the dog going to need additional training eg: public access test so that the dog can enter shops, schools, etc.

·        There are very few charities that train dogs for children - think outside the box. How can I get a dog trained?

My experience

·        We registered with WKD a dog training company.

·        WKD met with the CM and family to complete the form for what was required.

·        After a few months, the family were given a choice of three dogs that were thought to be suitable.

·        The family fell in love with a cocker spaniel with very loveable, pleading eyes. (If anyone has had a cocker spaniel, they will now what these eyes are like)

·        The dog was trained in all aspects of doggy behaviour i.e.: lead, toilet trained, etc with specifics to train the dog to accompany a wheelchair user and to swim in water with humans.

·        Throughout the training the family were updated on progress by the dog trainer with videos, calls, etc.

·        The family met the dog.

·        Training continued until the dog was deemed ready to leave the training centre.

·        All the family went for a weekend of training before bringing the dog home.

Further reflections

I had not realised how anxious Mum would be. She had never had a dog before and found it hard to interpret the dogs behaviour. She worried that the dog was not settling, was anxious, was not happy. The dog was car sick which created a lot of work for Mum. She worked hard at the training and the family fell in love with the dog very quickly. Dad, however, had had dogs before and the dog was soon greeting him at the door by jumping up, which was against the training.

It is very hard for a family to maintain the assistance dog relationship and not to allow the dog to become a domestic pet. Something that needs to be highlighted to any family who are considering getting an assistance dog. The dog is a working dog and should maintain this role.

Is the dog still broken?

Following the meeting the dog was returned to the trainer for another two weeks training. The family were very upset that the dog needed to go back. Mum found it very difficult to explain to the children what was happening.

However, the dog had further training along with the family members and has returned home. He still requires additional training for his public access test, which will be completed in time. He is still learning his role but is less anxious and is now walking alongside my clients wheelchair, going into school, and attending appointments. The family are more confident too. The dog still has a way to go. He is only young and is learning all the time. Consistency by all family members is key. My young client loves the dog and has formed a bond with him.

I have found a local trainer who can also work with the family within the community which will be really useful.

Would I do this again?

Yes. Personally, I have learnt so much from this experience and have reflected on the processes involved. There is no harm in registering an interest with as many charities as you feel are appropriate. A lot of charities will be closed to applications but will let you know when they are opening again.

Do not get the families hopes up that they will have a dog quickly as this is highly unlikely. Make sure you discuss fully what the requirements are with the family. This is so important as you may need to find additional training which will also take a lot of time.

Families are concerned as there is no national register for Assistance dogs in the UK. There are also no guidelines on how a dog should be trained and who by. There are also very few trainers who complete the public access test.

It’s a minefield. Enjoy navigating it for your clients.

Posted on May 6th 2022

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