Dogs for Good is a UK charity making life-changing differences for people with disabilities and its innovative Family Dog service offers help and advice to families with an autistic child get the most out of their relationship with a pet dog. During lockdown, the charity took the opportunity to shape the service into a virtual offering and the response has been very positive with bookings more than doubling.
Dogs for Good Family Dog Instructor, Hannah Beal, says: “Covid-19 has undoubtedly given rise to the amount of people struggling with their mental health and the effects of this are even more sharply felt by families of an autistic child. We know how dogs can help to shift focus, reduce anxiety and manage autistic behaviours in children. But it doesn’t happen by magic. It’s so important to get the right guidance, help and support to ensure that bringing a dog into a family with an autistic child is a positive step for both two legs and four. And that’s where Family Dog workshops come in.”
The first thing the workshops teach families is how to understand a dog and its needs, how a dog communicates and how to confidently create a home environment that allows a dog to thrive. “Quite simply, we know that if you get it right for dogs, you get it right for people,” says Hannah.
Prior to the pandemic, Family Dog workshops were held face-to-face in various locations across the country but lockdown and restrictions made this impossible. Harnessing technology and adapting the workshops to an online format meant that the team at Dogs for Good were able to continue to support the many families that had booked workshop places.
Hannah continues: “80 parents had already booked onto the in-person workshops and we weren’t prepared to let them down. So, we found a way to virtually deliver everything we’d normally cover on the in-person workshops. We combined narrated videos that we’d normally play in the workshops with interactive sessions so that parents could still meet and talk to each other – something that we know is really helpful. It’s been really successful and because we’re now virtual and not restricted geographically, we can offer the service out to more families.”
Since inception in 2010, Dogs for Good’s Family Dog service has helped thousands of families with an autistic child explore techniques and training to enable a pet dog to bring support for the whole family. The service is the only one of its kind in the UK and the model has now been adopted by a number of organisations across the world including Canada, Spain, Holland and Australia.
Autism affects one in a hundred people in the UK. Previous research (published in 2016) carried out by Dogs for Good in partnership with The National Autistic Society and the University of Lincoln concluded that 85 per cent of families who had a child with autism found that their child was happier in the presence of a family dog, while 62 per cent said their child was less likely to have a meltdown.
The Family Dog team will resume face-to-face workshops as soon as restrictions allow but will be keeping the virtual service as an additional option for those families who can’t travel or would simply prefer not to attend the in-person option. Hannah says: “A combination of online and in-person gives people more choice and flexibility.”
Family Dog Workshops are ideal for those:
- At the early stages of considering getting a dog to help your child with autism
- That want to get a dog and are looking for help choosing and handling a dog
- Who already have a pet dog but would like training ideas and support
For more information about Family Dog visit: dogsforgood.org/how-we-help/family-dog/