How we train our dogs

Our canine partners undertake a specialist two-year training programme, which begins from selection at seven to eight weeks old. They spend 12 to 14 months in puppy training with a volunteer, followed by four months’ advanced training at our National Training Centre. At all stages training is fun and reward-based.

Puppy training

Our puppies need to have essential qualities such as a gentle nature, curiosity and friendliness.

We work predominantly with Labradors, golden retrievers or crosses of these breeds. We also train some poodle crosses for people who may have allergies.

As soon as we have selected our puppies we place them with carefully chosen volunteer puppy parents. They care for them full-time – under the supervision of our trainers – taking them to our puppy classes, and continuing the training at home. These volunteers teach the pups basic obedience, social skills and the core tasks of touching, tugging and retrieving which are essential before they move on to advanced training.

Advanced Training Leona in wheelchair training a dog

Advanced training

When the pups are around 14 to 16 months they move into advanced training at one of our centres. The core skills they have already learned are extended to tasks such as opening doors, retrieving the phone, pressing lift buttons and unloading a washing machine.

During the next few months they hone their skills and are carefully matched with a person with a disability who is on our waiting list. Their training is then tailored to meet that individual’s specific requirements.

During advanced training the dogs will continue obedience training, visiting local towns and shops to ensure they are confident and well-behaved in all situations.  


Partner training

At the end of the advanced training, the applicant is invited to a two-week residential course at our National Training Centre with their chosen canine partner under the guidance of the dog’s trainer. The applicant learns how to work with their dog and continue its training, as well as what motivates their particular dog and how to take care of their canine friend. It is during this busy two weeks that the special bond between dog and partner begins.

Frodo and Elmo

Aftercare and retirement

We offer ongoing care and guidance through regular aftercare visits and telephone support, which allows us to ensure the success of the partnerships and well-being of all our dogs throughout their entire working lives until their well-deserved retirement.