Meet Raife - the hero Labrador from Sheffield who has been helping a child with autism to live his best life
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Raife was trained by Sheffield-based charity Support Dogs as a disability assistance dog to provide vital practical support inside and outside the home for a client with a disability or medical condition.
But because of the dog’s lively personality and high energy levels, the training team at Support Dogs decided to switch Raife to its autism assistance programme.
And now Raife is being taught all the skills he will need to spend his working life helping a child with autism to be safe, secure, and independent.
The two-year-old Lab has learnt how to load and unload the washing machine, open doors and pick up dropped items.
Although assistance dogs need to have different characteristics for each training programme – autism, epilepsy seizure alert, and disability; they all need to be confident and adaptable, dog-friendly, people-orientated with no major fears or phobias.
“The original plan for him was to be a disability assistance dog, but we felt because Raife is so active, the autism programme would be more suitable,” says Support Dogs trainer Jemima McLanaghan.
“Autism assistance dogs have to be quite confident and have to be quite adaptable. When Raife first came into training he was quite under-confident, but he has progressed so much and now is very confident. I’ve started taking him to play areas where there are lots of children, and he’s been great.
“He is very lively, always wagging his tail and his entire bum! He has all the energy in the world.”
Raife arrived at the Brightside-based charity as one of a litter of four and spent most of his puppyhood being looked after by a local volunteer puppy socialiser.
Support Dogs is committed to high standards of dog welfare, with trainee dogs never spending a night in kennels but instead living with local foster carers.
Raife is now with a foster carer family in Sheffield with a child to help him get used to living in a household with children.
Having learnt all the domestic duties expected of a disability assistance dog, Raife is now learning lots of new tasks that will help him transform the life of a child with autism.
He will learn how to ‘brace’ when a child on a harness tries to run off to stop them from getting into danger.
Autism assistance dogs are trained to keep a child safe using a wide range of methods, reducing the risk of injury or distress for the child and reducing stress and anxiety for the child’s family.
“He’s sailing through his training; he just needs to relax a chill out a bit now,” adds Jemima.
“He will be introduced to the child and will be working in September then start training with the child and parents at their home in January. We expect great things of Raife!”
Do you have a much-loved pet dog under the age of three that you can no longer look after? - If so, get in touch via [email protected]