Assistance Dog Programme FAQs

Our Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) will inform you about living and working with an Assistance Dog, applying for an Assistance Dog, the matching process and going through the application process more generally.

It is a big decision to bring an Assistance Dog into your family. Many families find it brings a new responsibility that can be shared by different family members. Dogs thrive on structured routines. Adding structured routines can bring change to the family routine but often results in positive changes for the whole household. We aim to give you some basic information about living and working with an Assistance Dog, both the potential benefits as well as some of the logistical implications.

Living with an Assistance Dog

What are the benefits of having an Assistance Dog?

At Irish Guide Dogs for the Blind our mission is to enable families of children with autism to lead better lives through mobility and independence. With the help of our Assistance Dogs, family outings can become less stressful as our dogs allow families to enjoy greater freedom.

The primary functions of our Assistance Dogs are:

  1. to “anchor” a child to stop them from bolting in public;

  2. to stop safely at road crossings; and

  3. to aid transitioning by keeping the partnership moving.

These three tasks serve as a mobility and safety aid to children and parents.

According to research, some other benefits reported by families include:

  • improved participation in social activities for their child and the whole family.

  • improved communication skills in their child.

  • a greater sense of responsibility and improved confidence in their child.

  • increased calmness and a decrease in stress-related behaviours, as well as the number, severity and length of meltdowns.

  • some children improved in their core strength and balance, walked in a straighter line and stretched tight calf muscles due to walking places, rather than sitting in a pram to go places.

Importantly, families who have lived with a dog, or believe they will enjoy living with a dog, and those children or other family members who do not show any fear around dogs will get the most out of working with an Assistance Dog.

What are the logistical implications of owning an Assistance Dog?

While there can be many benefits to having an Assistance Dog, there are also some important logistical implications that we encourage each family to consider. Better understanding and accepting these implications can enhance the benefits of having an Assistance Dog.

  • Dogs should not be left at home alone for more than a 2-3 hours per day.

  • Dogs cannot accompany your child into school.

  • Dogs have ongoing care needs such as grooming, vet scheduling and costs, feeding and keeping up on training.

  • Submitting biannual veterinary reports to Irish Guide Dogs for the Blind.

  • There is a constant presence and consideration of the dog’s needs at home.

  • Outings sometimes need careful consideration according to the dog’s needs.

  • New and stressful behavioural challenges can occur, such as the child taking out frustrations on the dog, which need to be handled carefully for the safety of both the child and the dog.

  • At some point families will have to transition away from working with the dog as it approaches retirement as well as deal with losing the dog, through retirement or death, and explain it to the child.

  • At times parents may have to deal with businesses or organisations refusing access to the Assistance Dog. Although refusal is against the law, it can be stressful dealing with such situations and consequences.

  • If you are planning to bring your Assistance Dog abroad extra steps to ensure compliance with international dog travel laws may be required. On the other hand, you will have to find someone to mind the dog while you’re away if you choose not to bring them with you.

Although primarily up to the responsibility of the family, Irish Guide Dogs for the Blind has some supports in place to help with the logistical implications.

  • Aftercare service, which entails more intensive support for the first six months, and then once a year support service delivered either through a home visit, phone call or video call. These are scheduled annually but can be requested at any time.

  • Holiday support – advice and information, sometimes helping you connect with a volunteer dog minder if necessary.

  • Support with weight management plans for the dog.

  • Additional training for the dog that may be needed due to a change in the child’s functional level.

  • A behavioural management problem with the dog.

  • A major veterinary problem.

  • Legal problems pertaining to the use of the Assistance Dog as allowed by law.

  • Refresher training.

  • Emergency advice.

How is the quality of the Assistance Dogs at Irish Guide Dogs for the Blind regulated?

Our Assistance Dog Programme is regulated by Assistance Dogs International (ADI) and their standards guide our training and management of our dogs. Please visit the ADI website to learn more.   

What is the estimated annual cost of having an Assistance Dog?

The estimated minimum yearly cost of having an Assistance Dog in your family is €1,700 per annum, please see the last section of this page for a breakdown of these costs. This includes visits to the vet (which is required by ADI regulations), the annual cost of vaccinations, worming and flea treatments, the cost of insurance, the cost of food, and an estimated cost of enrichment accessories, such as bedding and safe toys.

Once I bring my dog home, who owns the dog?

Like many service dog organisations, Irish Guide Dogs for the Blind remains the owner of the dog during its working life. This helps us guarantee the health and welfare of the working relationship. We stay connected through our annual Aftercare Programme. Aftercare helps us problem solve behaviours, give advice about how to manage your dog’s health, and how to continue getting the maximum benefit of the partnership even as your child becomes more independent.

How long does an Assistance Dog work for?

Our dogs are roughly 18 months old when they are placed as a working Assistance Dog. In accordance with ADI regulations, Assistance Dogs must retire by their 10th birthday, at the latest. Through our aftercare service, we begin discussing retirement around the dog’s 8th birthday. This helps families transition away from relying on the dog for physical attachments.

What happens to the dog after retirement?

Retirement means the Assistance Dog stops being used as a working dog and families return the dog’s blue Assistance Dog jacket to us. The partnership no longer has public access rights. Depending on each family’s circumstances, retired dogs either stay with the family as a pet dog or are rehomed by us to another loving family.

How to Apply

When can I apply?

Applications to join our Assistance Dog Programme waiting list are currently closed. We last opened applications on August 22nd, 2023, and aim to open again within the next 2 years.

What is the cost to apply for an Assistance Dog?

It is free to apply for an Assistance Dog from Irish Guide Dogs for the Blind.

Application Criteria

What are the application criteria?

The application criteria are:

  1. Your child must be aged between 4–7 years of age at time of application

  2. A full multi-disciplinary report showing a diagnosis of autism must be included with the application.

  3. The multi-disciplinary report must recommend that your child should attend an ASD Unit or specialised school. (Note: Your child does not have to be attending an ASU Unit or specialised school but the report does have to recommend it.)

  4. A commitment that one parent/guardian will be at home with the dog for most of the time, and not leave the Assistance Dog on its own for more than 2-3 hours per day.

  5. A fully enclosed garden that is safe for a dog to toilet and play in each day.

  6. A safe place inside for your dog to sleep.

Why are applications restricted to children between 4-7 years?

Irish Guide Dogs for the Blind has trained Assistance Dogs for children with autism since 2005. One of the primary functions of our Assistance Dogs is to “anchor” a child to stop them from bolting. We aim to ensure families receive this benefit for as long as possible. Many of our dogs find it difficult to do this if the child is too big or strong, which is more common for older children. On the other hand, we have found that our dogs can overpower a child under the age of four years by walking too fast.   

What is a multi-disciplinary report and why is it required by Irish Guide Dogs for the Blind?

A multi-disciplinary report is a report that outlines all relevant information from the team of clinicians that assessed your child at time of diagnosis. These clinicians may include speech and language, occupational therapy, psychology and social work. The report will have a confirmed diagnosis of autism and will give us more information as to other inputs and services that your child may be receiving. This allows us to determine if an Assistance Dog will benefit your child and to identify the right dog for your child.

Why are only applications from children whose multi-disciplinary report recommends he/she attends an ASD Unit or specialised school accepted?

The main function of an Assistance Dog is to ensure the safety of a child through the physical attachment to the dog. From experience, our Assistance Dogs bring the most value to those children whose multi-disciplinary report recommends they attend an ASD Unit or specialised school because this reflects the level of supervision required for the child to be safe. The more supervision that is required the more likely they are to keep using the dog for the physical attachments. Anecdotally, we have found that a high functioning child will more likely resist being attached to the dog after a very short time. Older children also are more likely to feel embarrassed about the dog in front of their peers.

What about home schools?

An application for a child who is being home schooled will be accepted assuming that the multi-disciplinary report recommends that the child attends an ASD unit or specialised school. For us, home schooling is considered a specialised environment. 

Should my child's key care professionals know about this application?

We encourage all prospective applicants to make their child’s key care professionals aware of their application for an Assistance Dog and to discuss with these professionals some of the implications for their child’s long-term care and support. Key care professionals include Occupational Therapists, Speech & Language Therapists, Psychologists, GPs, etc.

Assessment Process

I am now on the waiting list to be considered for an Assistance Dog. What happens next?

If you are successful with your application and placed on the waiting list, you will begin to move through the next steps of the Assistance Dog applicant process. These steps are explained below.

Please note: the steps below may happen in a different order than outlined below. For example, the home check may happen after the video call conversation. Also, at any stage of this process you may withdraw your application, or we may decide, based on solid reasoning, that an Assistance Dog is not right for your family. Either way, we facilitate an open, transparent discussion around the decision.   

Step 1: Complete a Short E-learning Course - The purpose of the e-learning course is to give you and your family an overview of what it is like to have an Assistance Dog. This is not an assessment but must be completed to proceed through the application process. It is an opportunity to make sure you believe an Assistance Dog is a good fit for your family.

Step 2: Home Check - A home check is to ensure that your house and garden is safe for a dog. This means having a fully enclosed garden with a secure gate and a quiet place inside for the dog to rest during the day and sleep at night. (We do not expect you to buy a dog bed at this time). A home check may be done through a mixture of recorded videos submitted by the applicant and/or an in-person visit by a staff member. It also gives us a chance to observe the behaviour of any family dogs or other pets to see how they would fit with an Assistance Dog.  

Step 3: Conversation (video call) with Parents/Guardians - The goal of this informal assessment is to get to know you as a family. Through a series of questions and informal dialogue, we aim to learn if an Assistance Dog would benefit you and your family and, if so, what kind of Assistance Dog temperament would be suitable.

Step 4: Physical Attachment Practice - Your whole family (i.e., those who live in your home with your child, including siblings, grandparents, etc.) will be invited to our National Training Centre in Cork. The goal of this practical assessment is to observe an attachment walk with a dog to make sure the attachment process will work to keep your child safe. With your permission, we record a segment of the walk to review with the Assistance Dog team later. Observing the physical attachment practice will also give us an opportunity to see how you and your family interact with dogs, which will help us determine what kind of dog may be most suitable for your child and the whole family if you proceed to the next stage.

Some of the assessment will take place in our new autism friendly sensory room where the children are invited to relax or play with a dog, if they feel up to it.

The Assistance Dog team will review the recorded assessments and discuss whether your family will continue to “Awaiting Match” status.

Please note: the dog on the assessment will not be the dog you are matched to should you proceed to the next stage.

Step 5: Transferred to ‘Awaiting Match’ status - The Awaiting Match stage is for applicants who have completed all steps above successfully. At this stage, the Assistance Dog team begin looking for the right dog for you and your family.       

How do you determine the right dog for my child?

There are many aspects that we consider when looking for the right dog – “a match.” These include:

  • Individual needs of the child (size, speed, personality, sensory needs)

  • Individual needs of the dog (size, speed, temperament)

  • Family circumstances (siblings, pets, etc.)

  • Child’s characteristics

  • Dog’s characteristics

  • Home environment (urban, rural, suburban)

  • Parent expectations

  • Types of dogs available

Why is it so important to get the right match?

Taking the time to get the right match will help bring the most benefits to your family. The better the match, the more likely the dog will keep your child safe for a longer period of time.       

What happens once a potential match is found?

Once a potential match is selected for your child, you and your whole family will be called for a Matching Visit. The Matching Visit is exactly like the Physical Attachment Practice you completed, but this time we will attach your child to the dog we have in mind for you.

We ask that you do not tell your child that they are coming to meet their new dog, just in case we decide on the day that this isn't the right dog for you.

If the matching visit is not a success, then further options will be discussed between you and the Assistance Dog team.

If the match is successful, you will be called to Class.

What does “called to class” mean?

If the match is successful, you will be invited to Assistance Dog Training - what we call "Class". It is a residential training course that lasts up to 5 days with only one parent, (unless both parents want to attend) attending at our National Training Centre. No children are allowed to attend the training at the Centre. 

Class training helps to establish the partnership between the parent and the Assistance Dog before the parent brings the dog home at the end of class. We aim to give you at least 3–4 weeks notice, except under extenuating circumstances.

If I am placed on the waiting list to be considered for an Assistance Dog, how long will it take before I am “called to class” if I proceed through every step?

This will depend on the age of your child at the time of applying. There are many factors that can influence waiting times, including:

  • age of your child at the time of applying (to ensure all children get the maximum benefit of their dog, we begin with the oldest children and work down to the youngest)

  • family circumstances

  • specific child and family needs

  • temperament of dogs in training

  • family availability 

  • staff availability

Although on average it takes about 12 – 18 months from the time of submitting an application until getting matched with an Assistance Dog, this process can sometimes take longer. Below is an estimate of the waiting times that we ask our prospective families to expect.

Child’s age at the time of applyingEstimated waiting time from the lottery draw until assessment process beginsEstimated time from the beginning of the assessment process to “Awaiting Match” status for successful applicantsEstimated waiting time from “Awaiting Match” status to “Called to Class”
7 years of age 3 – 6 months 3 – 12 months 3 – 18 months*
6 years of age 6 – 12 months 3 – 12 months 3 – 18 months*
5 years of age12 - 18 months3 – 12 months 3 – 18 months*
4 years of age 15 – 24 months3 – 12 months 3 – 18 months*

*The timeframe between “Awaiting Match” status and “Called to Class” can vary greatly depending on the dogs in training and the individual child. We strive to get the best match possible to protect the health and welfare of both the child and the dog. In some circumstances, this can take time.  

Can my application be declined after I am put on the waiting list to be considered for an Assistance Dog?

Your application will only be declined at any stage during the process if you or we believe an Assistance Dog is not a suitable support for your child and family. Sometimes this can happen if your family’s circumstances change during the process. In accordance with ADI regulations, you have the right to appeal a decision made by Irish Guide Dogs for the Blind to decline your application.

Unsuccessful Applicants

If I'm unsuccessful at any stage of the process, what happens to my application information?

We delete your application information in accordance with GDPR. You are welcome to apply again as a new applicant at the next re-opening.

When will the list open again?

We would expect to open applications again in 2025. This is dependent on the number of dogs available to match and the number of applicants remaining on our current waiting list.

Category Estimated Cost*
Veterinary Consultation Fee €140 per year (€11.60/month)
Parasite, worming and flea treatment€240 per year (€20.00/month)
Royal Canin Dog Food – Maxi Adult €630 per year (€52.50/month)
Pet Insurance €300 per year (€25.00/month)
Enrichment Items (Toys, bedding, dog waste bags, grooming fees, etc.)€240 per year (€20.00/month)
Other/unplanned costs**€120 per year (€10.00/month)
*These costs can vary depending on family and dog circumstances. **Other/unplanned costs can include unexpected dog illness, international travel documents, extra veterinary costs outside consultation fee (i.e., prescriptions), prescription food, etc.

If you have any questions not answered above, please use this form to ask your question.

All questions will be responded to between 3:30pm and 4:30pm daily, Monday to Friday.

By submitting this form, your information will be shared with us in line with our privacy policy and terms.

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