Animals in general, but dogs in particular, have been used in pet therapy for several years, proof of how much they can help people going through therapy. When properly trained, dogs can also help people with severe motor difficulties or disabilities. We have talked with Igor Facco, an expert in training service dogs. With the support of Onlus UDOG, he’s been training a crossbred dog to help Ms. Anna, a blind woman.
Igor, how did your passion for animals start? How did you first become interested in this specific training modality?
I’ve always had a huge passion for animals. I studied ethology and then went on to study the training of assistance dogs in England, Germany and Sweden, where I learned my metier before bringing it to Italy. I work with pet therapy; I develop projects with schools, involving itineraries with the purpose of getting over bullying, and with nursing homes, to help elderly people recover from injuries. In the past few years I’ve been specialising in the training of service dogs.
Could you explain in more detail what the training of service dogs involves?
Pet therapy is well known by now, but the use of dogs as support to people with disabilities, sometimes quite severe, is less so. Needless to say, the animal must be very well prepared first. In Italy, the patient is fully responsible for this kind of training, and this is why UDOG was founded, to raise private funding to allow us to financially support these projects.
What types of disability can these dogs help with?
I recently trained a dog for Giuseppina Costa, a girl with muscular dystrophy and severe motor difficulties. I personally followed all the phases of the training of her dog, which now lives with her, helping her with small chores, as she lives by herself. Her dog can, for instance, pick up the phone from the floor and open the door, a huge help for Giuseppina. We’re currently training a crossbred for Anna, from Brescia, a blind woman.
Why choose a service dog?
The disabled person who chooses to be helped by a dog makes a decision to take a challenge. I prepare the animal for about 4 months, with daily training sessions. Once the animal is ready, it takes another 4 months until both the dog and the disabled person are well tuned to each other, a crucial phase that I also follow in person. Nothing is more satisfactory than watching the blooming of a relationship of trust between the dog and its owner. In addition, choosing a service dog also helps improve your social life – everyone loves a cute dog. In the end, when a disabled person is out in the streets with her dog, she’s not only just a disabled person, she’s the owner of a friendly dog that people feel inclined to approach to pet the animal or to exchange ideas about the animal world.
Service dogs are usually of specific breeds. Why choose a crossbred?
Anna’s dog won’t be of a specific breed, he’s a crossbred recovered from a shelter and selected for his physical and character features. This is a new thing, unheard of in Italy. In this manner, we want to show how an abandoned animal can be recovered and turned into a fundamental part of the life of a person with a disability.
Thank you, Igor! If you’re still curious or wish to support UDOG, visit www.u-dog.org