We heard from puppy Ivan about just what it's like to be an assistance dog - and the difference they can make to people's lives.
"Hi, I’m Ivan, and I am just starting out on my journey to be a canine partner – that’s a really clever dog that will help someone who uses a wheelchair to have more independence.
I’m 10 weeks old and am now living with a puppy parent, a volunteer who will look after and guide me for a year until I am ready to go to big school - the main training centre where I will learn all the really amazing tasks that will make such a difference to a disabled person.
But I’m running ahead of myself! I popped into the training centre yesterday with my puppy parent to see what happens at puppy class. Loads of puppies were being put through their paces: walking nicely on a lead round an obstacle course; running back to their handlers when they are called (soooo difficult!!); and the older ones even learn how to manoeuvre round a wheelchair.
The training is all carried out with lots of rewards so that when the pups do something right they get a lovely treat and a big fuss! It looks great fun, and I can’t wait to start learning all these new things. Just think, one day all of this will really help someone who has limited mobility.
Ways we can help people
After puppy class, I stuck my head round the door of the other training arena just to see what happens in there. There were several dogs of a variety of breeds all working with their own trainer, doing all sorts of weird and wonderful things. One dog was actually opening a washing machine then taking out clothes from inside and handing them to their trainer. Another had a purse in his mouth and was standing on his hind legs at a sort of mock-up shop counter offering the purse to the “cashier”.
I also saw dogs putting the footplates down on a wheelchair, going to fetch a mobile phone and even taking a trainer’s jacket and gloves off. I can’t wait to do all of these tasks!
After all the excitement of seeing the taskwork, my puppy parent took me outside and there we bumped into a lady using a wheelchair who had a grown-up dog in a rather fetching purple jacket walking alongside her. My puppy parent stopped to talk to her.
She said she never used to go out before she had her dog because she didn’t have much confidence, but now they go shopping and it takes her ages because everyone stops to talk to her! She doesn’t need to rely on a human carer so much now, and her husband has been able to go back to work because he knows her canine partner will help her if she needs it. They looked great together – both of them really happy. It’s so exciting that in just 18 months’ time I will be making someone’s life so much better too."Explore practical, financial and emotional support for people living with MS