Earlier this year we donated money to Support Dogs to cover the first year of training for an assistance puppy - this meant we also had a say in his name and decided on Albert. Albert, though rather affectionately now known as Albie, is currently in training with Support Dogs, one of our exclusive charity partners here at Waggel.
Support Dogs is a national charity dedicated to saving and improving the lives of children and adults with various challenging medical conditions. They provide, train and support specialist assistance dogs to achieve this - Albie being one of them!
At 3 months old, Albie is currently in training to one day be assigned to a specific programme:
Autism assistance dogs for autistic children. These dogs are trained to provide safety for the child and reduce stress in social environments.
Seizure alert dogs for people with epilepsy. These dogs are trained to provide a 100% reliable, potentially life-saving alert up to 1 hour before an epileptic seizure. This enables the client to find safety and control over their seizure, allowing a much more independent life.
Disability assistance dogs for people with physical disabilities whereby the client’s own pet dog is trained to perform tasks which are specifically tailored to their individual needs, providing them with greater independence and safety.
This week marks International Assistance Dog Week around the world. International Assistance Dog Week (IADW) was created to recognise and celebrate the devoted, and hardworking assistance dogs helping individuals mitigate their disability-related limitations.
The goals of IADW are to raise awareness and educate the public about assistance dogs, honour puppy socialisers and trainers, and recognise the heroic deeds performed by assistance dogs in our global communities.
To celebrate International Assistance Dog Week, we’re taking a peek into Albie’s training schedule to see a more in-depth look at the work Support Dogs do to help their dogs achieve greatness.
Like most puppies, Albie’s day begins with toilet training (at about 8 am). This is a crucial part of any puppy’s routine - whether training to become an assistance dog or not! Toilet training is a life skill that helps pups to become more independent and establishes good habits from a young age.
After this, Albie begins feed/whistle training. Whistle training is an excellent recall training method and helps dogs like Albie to divert their attention back to their trainer/prospective owner with just three toots of a whistle. This can be helpful when out on walks - if, for example, Albie were to become distracted by another dog or a bird. When the whistle is tooted he immediately knows to stop what he’s doing and is then rewarded with food. Positive reinforcement is key when training dogs and helps to establish a pattern of good behaviour.
Trainers work hard to make sure the whistle sound is one that Albie recognises and reacts to, not just another sound out in the big wide world. This type of training is provided around 4 times a day and scheduled around lots of sleep to make sure Albie gets enough rest.
One of the most important factors during this time in a puppy’s life is sleep. Puppies at Albie’s age, 3 months, need around 18 to 20 hours of sleep every day. This means that after every activity in his schedule, a nap is well and truly deserved. Sleep is a crucial part of a puppy’s routine and helps with a wide range of things such as confidence, behaviour, socialising, and physical health!
Nap time for a puppy in training also consists of crate time and relaxed isolation. Crate training taps into a puppy's innate instincts to find a cosy, serene, and secure spot when the surroundings become noisy or stressful. After every 1 hour activity, puppies get 3 hours to relax and sleep. This method proves crucial in curbing destructive behaviour and facilitating effective housetraining. Relaxed isolation helps pups to avoid developing separation anxiety and an inability to be left alone.
Though nap time is to help Albie relax, each designated sleeping time includes various noises to help him get used to what life will eventually be like. Some naps and isolation times include him being left alone with trainers close by in the next room. Others include a trainer's presence in the room reading, watching tv, cleaning, cooking, or even sounds of children playing.
Once he’s rested up from his morning activities, Albie moves on to environmental enrichment. This is practised twice throughout the day, in the morning this comes in the form of playing desensitising sounds and in the afternoon; confidence-building games.
Desensitising a puppy to sounds is a vital part of assistance dog training and includes gradually introducing them to noises from just about everything. We’re talking public transport, fireworks, banging, talking, horses, doorbells, vacuums, construction sites and everything in between. This part of training helps to build Albie’s confidence and allows him to develop positive associations instead of fear-based ones.
It’s not just noises Albie has to be comfortable with, but where they come from. This means recognising what is and isn’t a threat. Although a man with a hat and beard walking down the road might appear scary to a pup who hasn’t grown up exposed to this particular environment, Albie has to learn that this doesn’t warrant a reaction. For pups like Albie, every situation has to become his norm and Support Dogs work hard to help their pups in training become confident and focused at all times.
To further this, a section of Albie’s afternoon is dedicated to carrying him on a walk to see traffic. This helps him get used to cars honking their horns, buses noisily moving off from traffic lights, and trains passing, for example. Desensitising a dog to visual and audio situations during both day and night helps to reduce anxiety, improves behaviour, and enhances socialisation, ultimately leading to a more fulfilling and emotionally balanced pup. This compassionate and proactive approach helps prevent phobias and ensures Albie remains calm and responsive in various situations, including emergencies.
Confidence-building is another aspect of enrichment and includes things such as finding hidden treats, solving puzzles, and pressing buttons. It can also often involve getting Albie to find and touch random objects and surfaces so there is no hesitation or fear.
Of course, we couldn’t forget about arguably the most exciting part of Albie’s routine (to him, anyway); playtime. Though playtime is super fun, it also helps Albie to learn how to socialise with other people and dogs. Currently, Albie is on holiday in Wales with his volunteer puppy socialiser and their pet dog, Pixie. This is a great opportunity for Albie to develop life-changing socialisation skills and confidence that will carry him through to adulthood.
At about 10 pm, it’s bedtime for Albie. It’s estimated he’ll sleep for about 6 to 10 hours, though may need a comfort break at around 4 am until he can hold his bladder through the night. As always, his volunteer puppy socialiser will be on hand to help if needed.
Through a combination of enrichment, positive reinforcement, exposure, and of course, sleep, Albie is well on his way to providing life-changing assistance to someone in need.
Established in 1992, Support Dogs works across England, Scotland and Wales and provides all services entirely free of charge to those in need of them. Not only are they extremely dedicated to improving people’s lives but also the lives of dogs - including rescue dogs. 1 in 4 of the dogs Support Dogs train come from rescue centres or are surrendered as unwanted pets. However, the charity relies solely on voluntary donations and receives no government funding. If you’re interested in donating, volunteering, fundraising, or sponsoring a dog with Support Dogs this International Assistance Dog Week, check out their website today.
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