Thursday, 28 June 2012

28th June - Can my pet dog get a jacket?

Just following up on a previous post mentioning FAQ's - things I get asked, that I thought if I dealt with here I could gently point people in this direction to read the blog, and I can get back to my favourite conversations by day - which I think are;

Is it only me that has a crush on Tim Minchin (who?),
Argentinian Malbec - the perfect date for a night in - discuss
Do your eyes deteriorate when you get older so we think we still look gorgeous?

Anyway enough pondering...FAQ Number 2. Is there any way a pet dog can qualify to get a jacket to give them public access?

Annoyingly my quick answer has to be, I don't know!! Not very useful - but the reality is I have heard a few conflicting things on this subject. Having said that I can share what I have learned so far. When I started out my first thought was, is there any way I can train a dog to the point they can be tested for assistance dog work, and then get the jacket to give us public access. It seemed a sensible question to me at the time, but I now realise I was missing the point.

As an overview there are 7 charities in the UK that provide Assistance Dogs, namely;
Guide Dogs ( ,
Hearing Dogs (,
Dogs for the Disabled (,
Canine Partners (,
Support Dogs (,
 Dog A.I.D. ( and
Medical Detection Dogs (
 These are all members of the over arching body which is Assistance Dogs UK (

In essence all the dogs that are trained by these charities fulfill the required standards set by Assistance Dogs UK. In my mind that meant that the dogs were super smashing well behaved with a huge bag of tricks (juggling and skateboarding at the very least). But I was off the mark. Yes Assistance Dogs are trained to a high standard, as are many pet dogs. But what is essential is they are useful to the task they will be assigned to. That is more than just having a long list of things they can do. To be an assistance dog, it is also essential to have the right temperament as needed, be willing to work and enjoy that task, and be presentable in public at all times.

So for an Autism Assistance dog for example, they have certain trained skills, such as attachment walking, can assist crossing roads etc. But that's only half of it. What is really important is they are great around kids, with the right temperament, and can handle situations, such as a child in meltdown, without getting stressed.

In terms of the public work, say being in a restaurant, the dog also has to be very clean, well groomed and in peak health. As an owner this means I take extra time cleaning Lucie down after a walk in case I need to take her out after, brushing her, and ensuring she looks top notch at all times. No one wants to be carving into their lamb shank, only to catch sight of a muddy paw dog scratching themselves under the table, begging for scraps. So in having a jacket the charity is ensuring the dog has both the skills, behaviour and hygiene to qualify for access in all public areas. This is monitored throughout the life of the partnership, ensuring both owner and dog are still up to the task.

 The other part of assistance dogs is it doesn't stop when the partnership is set up, that's when the real work begins. It took me a while to realise how Autism Dogs work. When they join the family they have a 'toolbox' of skills. I will go into these in more detail in the future, but for now it is a set of 10-15 commands and skills they are trained to do. Unlike many other assistance dogs they are not specifically trained for individual tasks. Initially they just settle into the relationship with the child. When this is established then the real work can begin tailoring the skills of the dog to the needs of the child. This is done with the support of the trainer, and ongoing training to ensure the assistance remains relevant and useful. In this regard every dog is tailor trained for the needs of the client they are assigned to.

Back to pet dogs, the charities in general cannot just assess a dog as having a high level of skill and allowing a jacket, as there is ongoing monitoring and support required. Having said that, whilst autism dogs do not have a process yet to qualify pet dogs, I believe for some other programs, such as Disability Dogs, this may be an option, whereby a pet dog is brought in and trained, and becomes part of the supported assistance process. At this point I am out of my depth.

One thing I have heard repeatedly on my journey in relation to Autism, is that for those with well trained pet dogs in comparison to Assistance Dogs, there can be very similar benefits to be gained. Whilst there isn't the formal work of attachment walking and public access, over time, it is often reported that the greatest benefits of the dog are in everyday activities, and the relationship that develops with the child. So whilst attaining a jacket may not be possible, the majority of the benefits can still be gained by training a pet dog, and nurturing the relationship with the child.

If its any perspective, I think of the range of skills dogs can have. Lucie is ultra rubbish at playing 'fetch' with me. I see pet dogs every day doing things that are out of our reach. (I think Lucie thinks she is a cat, the way she wants to sit on your lap and have her tummy tickled - the girl needs psychotherapy for a canine/feline complex). I understand the winner of Britains Got Talent is a dancing dog with awesome skills, though my favourite pastime is watching 'Border Patrol' trash TV, with sniffer dogs finding cash and drugs - now THAT is a useful talent :) If only Lucie could sniff out cash, maybe life would take on a much rosier glow. So dogs come in all shapes and sizes with a huge range of skills, and jacket or no jacket they can be awesome.


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  2. Awesome stuff, thank you and keep coming with these, will be back again.

    Kind Regards,

    Colin Seal
    click to read