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Anything is paw-sible with a dog by your side – exploring canine capacity building

Two golden retriever dogs play on green grass in the sunshine.

There’s a common phrase that dog is man’s best friend. Whether you love our four-legged friends, or you’re not their biggest fan, there’s evidence to suggest therapy dogs can reduce people’s stress and increase their oxytocin – a hormone that plays a role in social bonding.

Richard Powell, Canine Assist’s Managing Director, witnesses this occurrence on a daily basis through the organisation’s canine capacity building programs.

We spoke with Richard to learn more about canine capacity building, how people can get National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) funding for it, and his favourite thing about dogs.

Thank you for speaking with us, Richard! To start, what exactly is canine capacity building?

Canine capacity building is about building a person’s capacity to participate in activities and the community with the support of a dog.

At Canine Assist, our team members and dogs work with our clients to build their confidence, ability, social skills and communication, so they can achieve their goals. We do this both in our centre in Morphett Vale in South Australia and out in the community,

We offer a short ‘Six Week Canine Superstar Program’ where clients have sessions to build their capacity alongside one of our dogs. Then, if they think they’d like an assistance dog, they can apply for our longer ‘Canine Assist Better Handler Program – The Assistance Dog Pathway’. At the end of the course, we gift participants an assistance dog.

Can you tell us what happens during a typical canine capacity building session?

There’s no such thing as a typical session because everyone is individual in what they want and what they need. A session could involve going to the cinema or going shopping, or even going to high tea – it completely depends on what the participant would like to achieve. No matter what, a session is always with the support of a dog.

What kind of feedback do you get from people who have participated in canine capacity building?

It’s overwhelmingly positive – we like to measure success with smiles.

We have a 10 year old client who, until recently, had never had his feet sized because he had been afraid of getting his feet trapped in the shoe fitting device. So, in one of our sessions, we went to a shoe shop with one of our dogs. The dog got its feet measured first, and after seeing that, the client felt comfortable to get his feet measured too. The client was supported by the dog to overcome a fear, and his mum was happy she knew which size shoes to buy him!

Do you have to be a certain age to participate in canine capacity building sessions?

Definitely not. I can tell you our youngest client is four years old and our oldest is 83.

Is canine capacity building beneficial for people who don’t have a dog?

Yes! I’d say 50 to 60 per cent of our clients don’t have a dog. Canine capacity building lets people experience what being around a dog is all about and what support a dog can provide. If someone is considering getting a pet dog or an assistance dog, sessions can even help people decide what breed is suited to them. We often give people advice about breeds and breeders.

How can someone get funding in their National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) plan for canine capacity building?

They can speak with their local area coordinator or support coordinator about their plan. If a participant has a goal about increasing their social or community participation, funding can come under the Capacity Building Supports budget and the Increased Social and Community Participation category.

It’s clear you love dogs! What’s your favourite thing about them?

The unconditional love and support they give. Right now, I’ve got my own assistance dog, Lulu, sitting opposite me. She’s looking at me and making sure I’m alright. If she notices I get heightened or down, she’ll come sit with me. She makes the world of difference.

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