During lockdown, our team of staff have been working hard to support our clients and volunteers through calls, online support and video training sessions. Below are some highlights from Jen, who works as instructor supporting assistance dog partnerships and Sarah, a community dog handler who supports people with autism and learning disabilities, on their experiences of working virtually.

Our assistance dogs continue to provide vital support at home

Working with assistance dog partnerships

Our instructor Jen has been supporting a new assistance dog partnership, a young adult with physical disabilities and his dog, Roy, a golden retriever. Roy was placed just before lockdown with his client, so Jen has been spending time each week via video link supporting the partnership to help them learn their task work that Roy has been trained to do. She’s also helping Roy’s new client to understand Roy’s behaviour – he’s a typical golden retriever and sometimes needs some extra support – and of course, help the new team’s relationship to flourish.

On video link up Jen has been working with her pet dog Jake, a Jack Russell to demonstrate some of the tasks that Roy needs to conduct. While it would have been great if Jen could have given this support face to face, the video sessions mean that Roy and his new partner have been able to continue their training at home and Jen says that the lockdown has given the new partnership time to really develop their relationship and build their bond.

In addition, Jen’s been spending time through video link up with a client who was due to be partnered with a dog in training, Whisper. While the partnership training has had to be put on hold, Jen’s been able to go through all the theory work required prior to having one of our dogs. This means that once lockdown is over they can both enjoy an active partnership having completed these important foundations which help give a much greater understanding about dogs and their behavior. Whisper is currently living with a volunteer boarder, and Jen’s been able to share regular updates from them with Whisper’s new client during lockdown.

Our Community Dog support

While face to face sessions with our community dog clients is not possible during lockdown, we’re continuing to support people who have established a relationship with our dogs. Our community dog handler, Sarah has been sending weekly activity sheets to two of our clients using community dog Fleck’s picture to make jigsaws, colouring in pictures and even got them involved with Fleck’s birthday recently. Sarah filmed a lovely video of Fleck opening his presents and one of the clients made and sent a birthday card to Fleck.  These activities will really help Sarah to resume her sessions with clients as smoothly and efficiently as possible post lockdown and of course, helps to raise spirits and energy right now.

Sarah developed activity sheets and jigsaw puzzles using pictures of community dog Fleck

Another of our clients who Sarah and Fleck support was feeling a bit low and even more isolated than usual by lockdown and really benefitted from some video sessions with Fleck and Sarah.  Sarah turned the video camera around so that Fleck could follow instructions from the client and gain eye contact. To start with, Sarah gave additional support to Fleck with some hand cues, but as the weeks have gone on so Fleck has been able to respond better and better to the video link up – he’s now spinning, jumping, fetching and giving a paw on command over the video!