Support Dogs’ senior instructor Tracey Moore talks about the job she loves.

For almost 15 years Tracey Moore has played a huge part in developing life-changing relationships between children and their canine carers.

Tracey joined the charity in 2007 initially as a volunteer, then a trainer, and an instructor. For the past three years has been a senior instructor, largely responsible for training Support Dogs’ successful autism assistance partnerships, although she has also trained dogs for the seizure alert programme for adults with epilepsy.

 “Children with autism who are often unable to communicate or express their feelings in a way that is understood by others, have little sense of danger or of the consequences of their actions,” she says.

“Our dogs are trained to provide safety for the child outside the home, reduce stress in social environments and provide invaluable independence and companionship.  For so many of our youngsters their dog is their best friend.

“Our trainers carry out the basic training of our dogs, and once they have competed the socialising and more general levels of assistance dog training - and once the child has been successfully matched to a particular dog - I start on the intensive training specific for this programme, working at the centre with the dog’s handler, who is usually the mum or dad of the child with autism.

“They will only have met the dog once or twice when it was matched with their child, so we start from scratch, doing some bonding work - so play sessions, basic obedience, some task work, taking them out for free runs, and getting the dogs to interact with them.

“We build up gently so then start taking the dogs into restricted areas such as supermarkets or retail park, and by the end of the couple of weeks we spend together we go to swimming pools, play centres and cinemas. It’s all about building up the handler’s confidence and knowing that the dog will be OK in these places. It’s very full on!

“Once the dog has gone home to live with its new family, I give them a little time to settle in, then make several visits to their home (all our clients have to live within a two-hour drive of our training centre.) I need to make sure that mum or dad is handling well, and that the child is happy being attached to the dog’s jacket when they go out – this is to prevent them bolting and running into the road.  Safety outside the home is paramount so training a dog to ‘brace’ – basically anchoring itself to the pavement and won’t let the child run off – is really important.

“For six months the handler, the child and the dog practise going into restricted areas and gaining in confidence. I’ll make around three visits during this time, more if needed, but problems are quite rare at this stage and usually they are just teething problems that I can sort out on the phone.

“Clients have to complete training diaries and submit them to us on a monthly basis, so I will check them and if there’s anything that needs attention I’ll go and visit. There are lots of checks and balances and opportunities to smooth out any issues.

“After six months we carry out a final assessment and if all goes well the child and the dog will qualify as an official autism assistance partnership. This relationship will last until the dog is ten, when it officially retires, although most families keep the dg on as a pet after retirement.

“Clients still have to complete a progress report for six months to make sure everything’s OK. They are then handed over to my colleagues in client services.

“Officially that’s the end of my contact with them, but I often follow their Facebook pages and sometimes see them when they come into the centre. I always have a soft spot for those families I’ve worked with, and it’s nice to keep tabs and see how they are getting on.

“The best thing…is accepting parents onto our autism programme. It is a really lovely thing because you know it will make such a difference to their lives. I love working with kids and seeing them interact with the dogs. You can just see the difference in them – it gets you!

“The worst thing…is when you have to tell a client that they have not been successful perhaps because there is no interaction between the child the dog or if the child is fearful of the dog. Happily, this rarely happens!

“It’s so rewarding, seeing the difference the dogs make to the lives of children with autism; it never loses its thrill. Our dogs are so clever, and it never fails to blow me away what they can achieve. I think it’s just brilliant that they are able to do such amazing things. I feel very lucky doing what I do.”

Find out more about Support Dogs’ autism assistance programme at