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Owner trained assistance dogs: Training your dog yourself

Updated: May 1

Many disabled people who think they may benefit from an assistance dog may not realise that they are allowed to train their own pet dog as a legal assistance dog. After researching, many dog owners decide that training their own pet dog for the role is the best option.

The obstacles that come with being allocated a charity trained assistance dog are:

  • The charity may not have any trainers in their area.

  • The waiting lists may be years long.

  • The dog may not be a good match.

  • The dog could be taken back by the charity.

Contrary to popular belief, an owner trained assistance dog has the same rights as one trained by a charity or organisation. In this blog, we'll explore all the facts around training your own assistance dog in the UK.

Owner trained assistance dogs: Access rights

An owner trained assistance dog, trained by its owner to mitigate disability, is classed as an auxilliary aid triggering access rights protected under The Equality Act 2010.

The Equality Act defines disability as a physical or mental impairment that has a ‘substantial’ and ‘long term’ negative effect on your ability to do normal daily activities More information is available here on your access rights here.

What identifies an assistance dog?

An assistance dog can usually be identified by its high level of training and behaviour in public. The dog will stay by its handler, walk on a loose lead and will not interact with members of the public without permission. The dog will be toilet trained and if necessary will be able to settle quietly next to its owner for long periods of time.

Assistance dogs required to sit next to their handler for long periods often use a

settle mat. This keeps the dog comfortable but also acts as a marker to indicate to the dog the need to settle quietly, also preventing dog hair being left on the floor.

The dog does not need to be wearing a uniform to gain access. However, professional looking assistance dog gear can help prevent access issues.

Do you need proof for your assistance dog?

Some businesses believe that they need to see proof of the dog’s registration and/or paperwork.

There is no register of Assistance Dogs in the UK regardless of where it has been trained.

Although ADUK organisations supply a yellow book, and some trainers provide an id card, this is not a legal requirement. Wuffable supply, as pictured below, a free UK Assistance dog law info flyer with every custom vest order.

We have various free downloads available on our webshop, including a free printable to help with public access. Additionally, we have a three piece access awareness card which can be worn on a lanyard and a card for your dogs vest. This is not an id card as by law, UK assistance dogs do not require identification, however it is a useful tool to help with access awareness.

You can browse our complete range of custom-made assistance dog products, including vests, lead slips and bandanas in our webshop

Can you train your own assistance dog?

Some ADUK charities support owners to train their pet dogs as assistance dogs, notably Dog Aid and Support Dogs and Darwin Dogs

These charities will assess your suitability to join their program. If accepted, they will help with all training and supply a uniform and an assistance dog identification book. The dogs remain your own and are assessed regularly in a public access test.

Due to barriers previously listed, many people choose to go it alone and either train their pet dog or choose a puppy with the intention of it becoming an assistance dog.

The volhards puppy aptitude test, pdf below, can be a good starting point to check behaviour traits from an early age. However, those who choose to owner train are likely to seek professional help and guidance throughout their training journey.

Download PDF • 384KB

It is important to allow your dog to enjoy being a puppy, socialise it well and teach good behaviour but do not put too much pressure on your puppy. Exposing your puppy from an early age to many experiences helps make a confident dog.

To help, a dog and its owner would benefit by attending a dog training class run by the Kennel Club or IMDT trainer.

You may also find this puppy raising guide from Guide Dogs UK useful.

Legal requirements for assistance dogs

It is a legal requirement for all dogs to be microchipped and it is preferable that they must be wearing a tag with the family name and address on it. Also, you need to check that your pet insurance provides cover for assistance dogs and has public liability insurance for public access work. Finally, it's crucial that your dog is kept clean and in excellent health.

What tasks should an assistance dog be trained for?

When you are ready to task train your dog to help you with physical tasks you may wish to recruit the help of a specialised trainer. Some offer face to face sessions, others offer training by zoom or a combination of both.

Please research which style may suit you most and consider which trainer best suits the task work you need help training:

  • picking up dropped items.

  • retrieving items (phone, key, medication, etc.)

  • help with undressing

  • opening doors

  • pressing buttons

  • deep pressure therapy

  • blocking

  • medical alert responses

  • alerting to sounds

  • finding exits

  • finding a person

Using a trainer gives you the advantage of having a credible training log which may be useful for access issues on flights and cruises. They have their own criteria not covered by the Equality Act, although there is positive change happening in these areas.

Support with training your own assistance dog

There are many trainers and not for profit organisations who specialise in supporting owner trained assistance dogs.

Here are a few dog training organisations that Wuffable are delighted to make gear for:

If you want to go it alone think about reaching out to other owner trained teams for their experiences and advice. We at Wuffable provide a free resource to help you keep a track of your training.

How do I label my dog?

You may choose to put your dog in a vest, bandana, harness and cape, harness with patches or simply a bandana and lead slip. As an owner trained team, the choice is completely yours.

Trainers and organisations may require your dog to wear their uniform or their logo on your choice of gear.

A new puppy is often labelled as an 'Assistance Dog Prospect' as there is no guarantee your puppy will make the grade as a fully competent assistance dog. Getting your puppy used to wearing a vest or bandana from an early age can be useful, many dogs become wary of wearing clothing if it is introduced too late.

A dog in training is often labelled' Assistance Dog in Training' and this identifies to the public that your dog is still learning to do an important job, and mistakes could happen. Whilst labelled as training, you may encounter access issues into non dog friendly places.

A dog who is considered good enough to have full public access in any environment is usually labelled Assistance Dog. This means the dog can accompany its handler into non dog friendly places. Some exceptions do apply.

You can find more info on the CATE UK website here.

Some handlers choose to state the type of assistance dog on the vest, lead slip, bandana, others do not. There is no reason why you should share medical information on your dog’s vest, but it is acceptable to use terms such as:

  • medical alert dog

  • psychiatric assistance dog

  • autism assistance dog

  • seizure alert dog, etc.

Where can I train my assistance dog whilst learning?

The law surrounding whether an assistance dog in training is allowed access is a grey area. If the dog can help its disabled owner whilst still in training, then legally the dog is mitigating the disability and the Equality Act is triggered.

However, some shops may refuse access. In my own experience, I asked businesses if they minded us coming in and were never turned away. Wuffable have a free printable which asks if the business will consider giving you access.

If you prefer to train in a dog friendly environment, there are many pet friendly businesses which allow dogs of all kinds to enter. Training in these places is good practice for when you wish to go into non dog friendly places.

Many garden centres will allow dogs as well as some high street shops and eateries. These shops do allow any dogs: Wilkinson, Lush, Selfridges, Hobbycraft, Mountain Warehouse, Seasalt and Waterstones.

When can my dog be considered public access ‘qualified’?

Once your dog’s behaviour is reliable and your dog is mitigating your disability then you can consider it to be public access ready. At this point, you may consider

your dog as a ‘qualified assistance dog’.

Despite there being no law requiring a dog to take a public access test in the UK, many owner trained teams choose to undertake one.

Assistance Dog Assessment Association offers a fully independent public access test for a reasonable fee, however, any dog good trainer should be able to assess your dog to see if it is public access ready. ThinkDogs Training & Behaviour are amongst many trainers who will perform a public access test for you.

The ADI public access test gives an overview of a public access test. This is for information and training purposes only. It does not give you ADI Accreditation.

This test may give you some guidance on whether your dog is ready to be considered ‘qualified’. However, remember if your dog is mitigating your disability then it is classed as an auxiliary aid and access is required by Law.

We hope you’ve found this post informative, please come back soon.

(Please be aware this is the law as interpreted by Wuffable LTD. We cannot be held responsible for problems arising from our advice on this blog post. Please seek your own independent advice if need be.)

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