A key stage in our disability assistance dog training programme is when a client’s pet dog comes to live and train away from their owner at our national centre in Sheffield.

For our clients this is  one of the hardest parts of the process; having to say goodbye to their pet for a month, even though they know that this is to enable them to really concentrate on their fun and reward-based training to become a life-changing support dog.

In fact some people even pull out or don’t go ahead with the training because they can’t face the prospect of losing their four-legged support, even temporarily.

But training manager at Support Dogs Katie Burns is keen to stress that although it can be a lonely time for the dog-loving client, the four weeks is a vital part of their development from pet pooch to professional canine.

“A lot of new disability assistance dog clients simply don’t like their dog coming to us and staying with a foster carer for four weeks – it’s too much of a wrench, having to give up their pet for a month,” says Katie.

“But although it’s tough, it’s worth it, and we want to put people’s minds at rest, and remind them why we do it. We want a fresh, blank canvass, get rid of any bad habits; it’s crucial to what we do. Then the client comes over and spends a further two weeks reinforcing what the dog has already learnt.”

The Support Dogs’ training team are also keen to stress that none of the dogs-in-training spend a single night in kennels during their enforced absence from home, but spend all their evenings and weekends with a foster carer in the city.

Ian and Margaret Chadwick were worried about the prospect of being without Ian's disability assistance dog-in-training,Raven for a month.

 “The prospect of Raven being away for so long was terrible,” says Margaret, pictured below, right, with Raven. “When it came to leaving Raven – she had always lived inside so wasn’t used to kennels – I worried that she would forget us. Ian was lonely without her but not as heartbroken as I was – she was my dog after all!

“I knew she was staying with Michelle, a lovely foster carer, as Raven’s trainer’s Georgina told us. I wasn’t worried that she would be ill-treated, but she didn’t know anyone except us. We thought she might fret – as we were fretting!”

Ian was less emotional than his wife but still missed Raven.

 “What really helped were the phone calls we received from Georgina usually after the weekend telling of how our girl was progressing and hearing Raven’s bark when she heard us on the phone,” he says.

“She was so excited to see us at the end of the training - she hadn’t forgotten us!”

Adds Margaret: “It was tough while she was away but worth it. I’d say to anyone thinking of applying to Support Dogs’ disability dog programme to go ahead and do it. Having Raven made such a big difference to Ian and to me.”

Michelle, who lives in Rotherham, and has been a foster carer for Support Dogs for the past year, looked after Raven during his training. She says: “Ian and Margaret were a bit sad and wary about leaving Raven, but when I met them afterwards I was able to  reassure them that  foster carers  do this because they love  animals, and that they’re going to a good home. All the dogs have their own personality, but Raven was lovely to walk, very well-behaved, and so sweet.

“Although there’s a training element, the dogs have fun with us too.”