“It’s almost like he’s an extension of me”: The Canine Care Project

Today we are really excited to be launching The Canine Care Project Report! Our report details our research into disabled young people’s experiences with their assistance dogs, which found that:

  • Assistance dogs improve feelings of loneliness, anxiety, isolation and fear for disabled young people.
  • 86% of disabled young people surveyed say their assistance dog makes them feel more optimistic.
  • Assistance dogs helped the majority of those surveyed to embrace their disability.

Where can I learn more?

What is the Canine Care Project?

The Canine Care Project is a small research project that explored the experiences of disabled young people who have assistance dogs. We partnered with Canine Partners, a registered charity that transforms the lives of disabled people through partnering them with assistance dogs. Through a small collective Research Team of academic researchers, Canine Partners collaborators, and Sally Whitney, a disabled young co-researcher who has a Canine Partner, we wanted to further explore related early findings emerging from our larger umbrella project, Living Life to the Fullest.

Canine Care Project Report front coverWhat is an assistance dog? An assistance dog is an animal that supports a disabled person with tasks in everyday living. Canine partners’ assistance dogs are trained to help with everyday tasks such as opening and closing doors, unloading the washing machine, picking up dropped items, pressing buttons and switches and fetching help in an emergency. They can even help people to get undressed and remove a card from an ATM. Canine partners’ assistance dogs also provide many psychological and social benefits such as increased independence, confidence, motivation and self-esteem; companionship, security and unconditional love; a talking point, increasing social interaction; helping to return to work, voluntary positions or further education and reducing reliance on human carers and, in some cases, medication.

What did we find?

  • Using surveys and interviews with disabled young people aged between 18 and 35 who are partnered with an assistance dog, we found 86 per cent felt more optimistic thanks to their dog.
  • Over 90 per cent of disabled young people surveyed reported feeling less lonely, 88 per cent felt less anxiety and 86 per cent felt less isolated. Assistance dogs were said to boost confidence for 90 per cent of participants, and help them to navigate social situations.
  • Assistance dogs were said to put non-disabled people more at ease in social situations, and help 67 per cent of the young people to embrace their disability.
  • Nine out of 10 of those surveyed said their dog had boosted their confidence, with some saying they had helped them to achieve major goals such as getting a degree and living independently.
  • Over two thirds of disabled young people said that, since getting their assistance dog, they relied less on support from human carers – with 81 per cent saying they had reduced the discomfort and guilt they feel when relying on human carers. More than half also felt that their assistance dog had helped them take better care of their physical health.

Kirsty Liddiard, Living Life to the Fullest Researcher and Senior Research Fellow at the University of Sheffield, said: “Our research makes clear the transformative impact an assistance dog can have on a disabled young person’s life – increasing independence, building confidence and helping young people to embrace who they are.

“In the future, we would like to see policymakers, local authorities and care professionals making all disabled young people aware of the possibilities and benefits of canine care.”

Sally Whitney, a disabled young co-researcher on the project, said: “Leading the project has been an honour and a joy as it is a topic that is incredibly important to me. It was because of my own experiences of being a disabled young person and having my assistance dog, Ethan, that meant I was so keen to work on the project. This has given me the impetus to probe further into the experiences of other young people and the results have shown an even deeper level of impact than I had anticipated. It is clear that assistance dogs do so much more than physical tasks and have a transformational impact on how young people receive care and, in turn, on so many aspects of their lives.”

Screenshot 2019-10-28 at 12.56.33

Sally and her Canine Partner, Ethan



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