A Dogs For Good assistance dog whose training was funded by Petplan Charitable Trust has passed his course with flying colours.
Sailor is affectionately described by staff at the charity Dogs For Good as a “sweet and occasionally silly” black Labrador. His training has been funded by a £10,000 grant from the Trust. As he settles down to life with his new human partner, we take a look back over his journey to becoming a life-changing assistance dog…
Sailor’s first steps on the road to fully qualified assistance dog
Sailor is now two years old but he started his rigorous training programme as a puppy. All puppies complete this course before they are ready to begin their life-changing work with their human partner. His first week was all about getting to know his instructor Katie. The two of them went for lots of walks, played fun games and enjoyed running in the fields. This helped ease Sailor into his training and gave him time to form a bond with Katie. This is a crucial first step as it helps him feel confident during his training.
The hard work began with obedience training. He was off to a great start thanks to his already good obedience on and off-site. This held true both on the lead and when called back on a free run. The challenge for Katie was that, like many young dogs, Sailor was easily distracted by other dogs – and balls! However, with lots of hard work and determination by both Sailor and Katie, he mastered the art of concentration – at least for 99% of the time!
Assistance dogs need to be taught how to walk safely alongside mobility aids. In this early stage of Sailor’s training, Katie also slowly introduced him to the idea of walking next to manual and electric wheelchairs, crutches and walking frames. With the help of plenty of treats, he was quick to learn where to put his feet to avoid getting run over.
Getting used to real-world environments
Having mastered the basics of obedience, Sailor progressed to learning how to help around the house. This is a vital part of an assistance dog’s job. To begin with, he learned how to pick up and retrieve a plastic dumb-bell. Initially he put it into Katie’s hands while she sat on the floor and then while she sat in a wheelchair. After that, his training continued with other household objects, such as keys, remote controls, clothes and even crutches.
Of course, assistance dogs aren’t just a lifeline around the house – they go everywhere with their human partners. That means that going out and about in real-world environments is a crucial part of a puppy’s training. Once Sailor was confident with retrieving objects at the Dogs for Good centre, Katie started taking Sailor into their local town, Banbury. This helped him to get used to the kinds of places he’s likely to go in his working life.
Sailor quickly mastered commands such as ‘push’ and ‘pull’
Another important command Sailor learned at this stage of his training was ‘push’. This allows him to help with things like closing doors and drawers, pressing buttons to access shops and banks, and pushing down on wheelchair footplates. To teach him how to do this, Katie used a round board with an X on it and rewarded Sailor as he started to show an interest in it. Gradually, he learned to press it firmly with his paw or nose, first on the floor, then on the wall and finally in real-life situations in town.
Sailor was especially quick to learn the next command on his training To Do list: ‘pull’. Taught using a piece of knotted rope, Sailor soon learned how to pull the rope tight and then transferred his knowledge to opening doors and drawers. From there, he could learn vital tasks like gently pulling off gloves and socks. These skills will prove hugely beneficial in helping his human partner to maintain some independence from family or carers.
Clever Sailor has ‘sailed’ through his training and passed his course with flying colours, with Katie describing him as a “dream to train”. After being highly sought after with eleven potential matches, he’s now been matched up with Caroline (right), whose mobility is limited after suffering a spinal stroke eight years ago.
Five months into their partnership, it’s already been a resounding success. Caroline says of Sailor: “He’s brought back to me bits of my life that I never thought I’d get back. He spurs me on to do more and more. I can go where I want, when I want and my confidence is growing every day. Already, we have an incredible bond.”
You can read more about Sailor and his new partner Caroline, here.
Founded in 1988, Dogs for Good is a charity that supports adults and children with a range of disabilities, enabling them to lead more independent lives with the help of specially trained assistance dogs. These clever dogs help with all kinds of everyday tasks, as well as providing emotional support and companionship.
Read more case studies, here