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10th Aug 2022

Shining a spotlight on Support Dogs.

by Burns Team Writer

Support Dogs is a charity which empowers people who need assistance due to autism, epilepsy or physical disabilities by providing dogs that are trained to meet their individual needs, increasing their independence.

It takes an average of two years to train just one support dog who will go on to provide assistance around the clock. They support over 100 families across the UK, but received thousands of applications each year for their services.


These partnerships are supported throughout their time together, as the charity funds regular health checks, provides additional training when needs evolve, and offers support when the dog is due to retire. They do all of this without any government funding, relying solely on voluntary donations – incredible! Burns have been sponsoring this amazing charity for 10 years, supplying their trainee pups with our award-winning food so that they get the best nutrition to support their development into everyday superheroes!


How does the Support Dog training scheme work?

  • Support Dogs help to get dogs out of rescues and into homes, offering them a fulfilling new life. 1 in 4 support dogs join the charity in this way. They train rescue centre teams on how to recognise and assess dogs with assistance potential so that they can be recruited into a support dog training scheme and spend less time in kennels. For their disability programme they also train existing pet dogs to become support dogs if they’re deemed suitable.


  • Pups can start their basic training from eight weeks old, and graduate to “big school” at 14 months. This is when they’re assessed to see which assistance role would suit them best, and they go on to learn how to perform more specific tasks. The charity considers every dog’s unique personality, temperament and strengths before enrolling them into the most suitable training program. Dogs that are laid back and calm make great autism support dogs, whereas those who are very people-focused and alert make fantastic epilepsy support dogs, and those that enjoy problem solving and being busy thrive off supporting people with disabilities. It’s not all work and no play for these guys though! During their training the pups stay with a foster family and spend their evenings and weekends at home, eating yummy Burns food, playing, exploring and being showered with affection.


  • Once the dogs are in their final stages of training, they get introduced to a potential partner off the waiting list. Many factors need to be considered to make the perfect match, home environment and location, dog’s temperament and ability, client’s needs, and of course how well they get on. The focus is on making a partnership that will be enjoyable, functional and long lasting as they could be working together for up to eight years.


  • All support dogs are retired by 10 years old, and either remain in their homes as pets or are rehomed into loving families. That’s a very well-earned retirement as over their eight years in service they will provide more than 70,000 hours of round the clock assistance.


The impact of Covid.

Through the pandemic, more people reached out for support. Those with autism struggled with the breakdown of routine, and many people were deemed vulnerable and had to remain isolated, suffering with loneliness and anxiety. The dog’s routines also went out of the window overnight as lockdown was implemented. This was a challenging time for all involved as they had to adapt to changing situations. Support Dogs UK remained a constant, reliable source of support for these partnerships, working with them to overcome the problems they faced. Extra support and training were also given to dogs who needed their confidence rebuilding and their focus retuning after being in lockdown for so long. The charity is made up of a truly extraordinary team who make such an impact on people’s lives!


How can you support them?

The charity relies solely on voluntary donations and depend on continuing support. If you would like to play your part in training an everyday superhero, you can sponsor a support dog from £5 a month. By donating monthly, you will be providing them with a reliable source of funds which helps the charity plan and budget. The charity gets thousands of applications for support dogs every year, illustrating just how vital these dogs are.


If you would like to find out more about this remarkable charity, please paw on over to their website for a sniff around!