Tracey Moore, a Senior Instructor at Support Dogs. Find out how she trains dogs to help kids with autism and the difference they make to youngster's lives.

This is a feature from Issue 7 of Charitable Traveller. Click to read more from this issue.

I’ve worked for Support Dogs since 2007, first as a volunteer, then a trainer and now a senior instructor. Most of my work involves training autism assistance dogs for children who are often unable to communicate of express their feelings in a way that is understood by others and have little sense of danger or of the consequences of their actions.

Our dogs are trained to keep children safe outside the home, reduce stress in social environments and provide independence and companionship. For many of our youngsters. their dog is their best friend.

On a typical day...

…I work to build a relationship between a support dog, the child, and the dog’s handler (usually a parent) at our training centre in Sheffield. We start from scratch, doing bonding work like play sessions, basic obedience, task work, taking them out and getting the dog to interact with the child.

Next we start talking the dog into restricted areas like supermarkets and after two weeks we go to places like swimming pools and cinemas. It’s about building up the handler’s confidence and knowing that the dog and child will be OK.

The next stage...

…sees the dog go to live with its family. I give them time to settle in before making visits to make sure that the child is happy being attached to the dogs jacket when they go out – this is to prevent them running into the road. We train the dog to ‘brace’ – anchoring itself to the pavement to stop the child. 
After about six months we do a final assessment and if all goes well the child and the dog will qualify as an official autism assistance partnership. This relationship will last until the dog is ten, when they retire, although most families keep them as a pet.

The best thing...

…is accepting parents onto our programme because you know it will make such a difference to their lives. I love working with children and it’s so rewarding seeing the difference the dogs make to autistic kids’ lives; it’s a thrill. And our clever dogs just blow me away with what they can do.

Top Dogs

Support Dogs also trains seizure alert gos for adults with epilepsy and disability assistance dogs for people with conditions like cerebral palsy and arthritis, enabling them to lead safer, more independent lives. 

Click here for more information.

This is a feature from Issue 7 of Charitable Traveller. Click to read more from this issue.