# training

How We Train Our Dogs

At VWD we use 'bond-based option learning', which means simply that the dog chooses to participate in training sessions, or indeed any interaction with their care-giver. This forms a bond of trust with the dog from the very beginning.
Offering this kind of empowerment to our dogs means that we can build a level of trust with them not previously seen. Their focus on us is increased, and their tolerance of uncomfortable situations or scenarios is much improved, compared to dogs not trained using choice. This provides us with the kind of temperamental stability and trust that a dog for mental health needs to have in order to be most effective to a Veteran.
Our ethical stance against punishment based training is scientifically backed and the results of correctly undertaken option learning speaks for itself.
All our pups are carefully chosen for their health and temperament. Once selected, the puppy will begin its Assistance Dog journey at the age of eight weeks old. Over the next two years, our expert trainers invest hundreds of hours into working with these future wonderdogs and transforming each puppy into a fully-qualified Assistance Dog.
The crucial first year of a puppy’s life is all about learning — learning basic skills, learning to be a confident, well-socialised dog who is not readily distracted, learning to feel loved. This basic training takes place in a home environment with one of our volunteers. We call these very special people, Puppy Socialisers, and without them, quite simply, we couldn’t do what we do.
Puppy Socialisers play one of the most important roles in training an Assistance Dog. They selflessly donate their home and their time to help raise a well-mannered pup who has been exposed to as many different sights, sounds and smells as possible and who will grow into a well-adjusted adult that relates well to other dogs, other animals and people. Together with lots of socialising with other dogs, this includes taking the pup on all modes of public transport and teaching him/her to remain focused on their training in busy community areas such as shopping centres.
Supported by our dedicated Trainers, who run regular puppy training classes and are always a phone call, text or email away, volunteer Puppy Socialisers ensure their puppy grows into a healthy, happy dog that is eager to learn. Regular home visits also take place to assist with the progress and development of each puppy. Very importantly, all food, equipment and vet bills are covered by Veterans With Dogs.
After 12-18 months with their Puppy Socialiser the puppy is then ready to be matched and placed with their Veteran. They have their final puppy assessment and become a Puppy Graduate. Our team of expert trainers are continually assessing each dog as to what type of client they could best be paired with.
When a potential match has been made with someone on our waiting list, we will spend time getting to know the new client, helping them getting used to having an Assistance Dog, and providing them with all the training skills they need to care for and handle their new dog.
Once the new team are settled we then begin the PALS Programme for the Veteran and their newly partnered dog. They work together and focus on the BOND, whilst developing advanced skills sets bespoke to that Veteran's individual needs. The programme includes a number of residential training visits to VWD, with ongoing individual training provided by one of our Approved Trainers local to the Veteran's home.
Once the programme has been completed, the Veteran and dog then take an intial Public Access Test and become qualified as an Assistance Dog Partnership. Our team continues to support each client and are always on-call to help with training or questions for the duration of the dogs' working life.
Our dogs work with their clients for eight–10 years before they retire. At this point, the client will decide whether they require another Assistance Dog. We always ensure our retiring Assistance Dogs are happy in a loving home, and they are allowed to remain with their Veteran if appropriate.
We develop close, ongoing relationships with all our clients, with the dog’s welfare always paramount.
Ultimately, these dogs assist their Veteran partners not just with task work, but also with the whole healing process, providing constant companionship that supports the Veteran throughout recovery.