A WEST Sussex based charity specialising in providing highly trained assistance dogs to people with disabilities, Canine Partners features in a three-part documentary on BBC One. The series, Dog House, which started last Wednesday, follows five unruly, disruptive teenagers as they learn how to train assistance dogs for people with disabilities.
After months of patient training, dogs trained by Canine Partners can retrieve objects, open doors, call lifts, even empty a washing machine. The benefits for wheelchair users are enormous. But what will be the benefits for the kids?
The kids themselves are a troubled and troublesome group: Allie, 15 – only allowed at school one day a week, her house and family bear the scars of her violent temper. Liam, 14 – excluded countless times for swearing at teachers and disrupting classes. Katrina, 14 – shy to the point of agoraphobia, she will be forced to come out of herself or leave the course. Rob, 13 – known as the Volcano for his explosive temper, Rob really wants to be a dancer. Ellie, 14 – in and out of school for bullying and swearing, she seems to have no empathy with other people.
Over three months this unlikely crew descends on the dog training centre in Heyshott, West Sussex, where head trainer Nina Bonderenko believes that working with the dogs can transform their behaviour. Patience, consistency and praise are the keys to dog training and perhaps the things that these children lack.
But from day one teenage mayhem is a shock to the system - these kids cannot concentrate for more than a few minutes, and the dogs are sensitive to any disruption. The experiment is almost over before it has begun. But gradually as the weeks progress some extraordinary and moving scenes emerge, as the young people begin to engage with the dogs as well as disabled people whose lives have been transformed.
But it is a steep learning curve - after just three months, the teenagers will have to put on a display of advanced dog training in front of an audience of families and teachers at Chichester High School for Boys - to prove to everyone that they are worthy of another chance at school.
Dog House runs weekly on Wednesdays at 10.45pm on BBC 1.