Medical Detection Dogs trains Medical Alert Assistance Dogs to alert people with complex health conditions, such as Type 1 diabetes or allergies, to an impending medical event.
Using their amazing sense of smell, dogs can be trained to identify minute odour changes that are emitted when someone is about to become seriously unwell, and alert them to take preventative action.
But before the dogs can undergo their sniffer dog training to then be paired with an individual, they need to be socialised – and that’s where the charity’s army of volunteer puppy socialisers come in.
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Puppy socialisers help the charity get its dogs used to all sorts of environments from a young age, so when they are placed with a client with a serious health condition, they remain unfazed wherever they are.
Now that most Covid restrictions are lifted, the charity is appealing for more puppy socialisers to come forward, so it can train as many lifesaving dogs as possible.
Golden Labrador Bowie, aged 15 months, has lived with Amy and Rob Elsey, from Grendon Underwood, and their children Morgan, eight, and Annabelle, five, since he was 12 weeks old.
Amy, aged 32 said: “Bowie is our first puppy, He’s the sweetest thing ever and we absolutely love having him. It will be incredibly hard when he does move on.”
Laid-back Bowie even gets on well with the family’s five-year-old pet Labrador, Max, and their cat, Sonic, and Amy admits it will be a wrench to give him up in a few months’ time when he’s due to begin his training.
“I think we’ll all be in bits, to be honest,” she said. “It will be really hard.
"But we’ve been very upfront with the children from the very beginning, we’ve told them all about what these dogs do and how special it is. We call them super-sniffers and we say they’re like little super-heroes that look after somebody that really needs them, so we’re very lucky to be able to give them all the love we can and we get to play with them and enjoy the puppy stage, which is really fab, and then they get to grow up and do their big dog job, if you like.
“The kids, I’m sure they’ll be heartbroken, but hopefully there’ll be another little puppy lined up for us when the time comes.”
The role of the puppy socialiser develops as the dog gets older, Amy said.
“When they’re really little, it’s all about just making sure that they’re exposed to lots of different things, so that nothing freaks them out or scares them when they see it for the first time.
“So Bowie came to live with us last summer, we took him on our family holiday to Swansea – we took him everywhere, basically.
“These dogs basically get a backstage pass to everything – they can go anywhere with you. So we took him to a dinosaur park, we took him to train stations, we took him on buses, anything that’s a little bit out of the ordinary that he might have to eventually do with whoever he looks after, because you just never know what they’re going to come across.
“So initially it’s all about exposure to as much as possible. And then as they get a little bit older, we go to classes usually every other week. And on the weeks when we don’t have a class, his trainer will often come and see us and we’ll go for a walk together or go and do some public access work, where we go to a shopping centre or a cafe or something like that.
"We spend a lot of time working on him being really comfortable in any situation so that he can settle wherever we are. He’s very popular at my son’s football training, he always comes along to watch.
“We’ve been incredibly lucky with him, he’s such a laid-back dog.”
Amy, who works from home in marketing and events and also as a beauty therapist, fits the puppy socialising in around her work and her young family.
“It is a juggling act, but it’s all about balance,” she said. “But part of his job when he goes on to look after someone is very much going to be slotting in to their lifestyle, so he has to learn to be quite settled and happy wherever he is and whatever he’s doing.”
And she encourages anyone interested in becoming a puppy socialiser to find out more.
“The charity is amazing,” she said. “They give you such great support and it’s really interesting learning about the dog’s behaviours and how to help with the training and things.
"It’s kind of like having a dog but without all the ties, because they arrange things like holiday cover if you go away, and the financial implications of having a dog obviously can be quite high, but they cover all the vet’s expenses and the food and things like that.
"So you get the joys of having a lovely little dog living with you without having to worry about forking out for everything.”
Medical Detection Dogs is looking for puppy socialisers who are within a one-hour radius of its Great Horwood headquarters. To find out more or to volunteer, click here.