Our dogs

We call our dogs care dogs, although the common misused description is therapy dogs.

What we at Canine Concern do is called ‘animal assisted activity’ or ‘animal assisted therapy’. This is different to a proper ‘therapy’ dog, who would need years of training to give ‘therapy’ rather than ‘care and comfort’

Most charities offering people’s own dogs to visit places to give pleasure are actually care dogs, but again they often commonly misuse the term therapy dogs.

This is again different from being a ‘service’ or ‘assistance’ dog, which requires years of training for a dog to learn to assist their owner, whether in physically doing things or warning of an impending illness. Assistance/service dogs are also allowed to accompany their owners in more places than Canine Concern care dogs (although we are allowed in more places than a normal pet dog).

Canine Concern care dogs are privately owned by people who are prepared to put in some time and effort to teach their dog the essential skills that they will need.

Your dog’s bond and trust in you is, perhaps, the most important factor for a safe enjoyable experience. This is why we say you must have owned your dog for at least 6 months, so you can get to know each other and trust each other.

They must also be well trained, highly obedient and able to keep their heads and respond to commands when a lot of stimulus is competing for their attention!

The Kennel Club Bronze Good Citizen Award is the minimum standard we expect, but don’t feel you have to actually go on that course and pass it. These are just the acceptable standards to be expected of a well-behaved and polite dog.

A happy Canine Concern care dog is also forgiving of people who do things that are rude in dog language; this cannot be learnt just by training, but it helps.

You can read more about our assessment process here.

For the safety of the dog and patient/person being visited, all dogs must be very patient and respond to your commands regardless of any distracting environmental stimuli. Other essential behaviours include:

  • Exceptional tolerance of handling by strangers
  • No sensitivity to rough stroking or petting
  • Excellent obedience levels
  • The ability to walk on the lead without pulling
  • Tolerance of unusual smells and sites, such as wheelchairs and medical devices
  • Physically calm and content in the midst of both exciting and possibly anxiety-producing distractions. In addition, they must be able to have self control and ignore those distractions and focus on the client
  • Confident in an environment that is different from home. Visiting environments (healthcare settings, prisons, schools, etc.) contain dynamics that are quite different from home in sounds, sights, smells, energy level, and activity level. A happy care dog is confident and feels at home in a variety of environments.
  • No fear of unsteady movement in humans. They must have ease around people acting differently than people might do at home. People who are ill or stressed might act differently than people who are feeling well and relaxed. A dog who is worried about people who act differently to what he considers ‘normal’ will not be happy working in animal-assisted interactions
  • A calm disposition
  • Docility
  • Complete lack of food or toy aggression and guarding behaviours
  • Is psychologically sound and mature.  It can be challenging to visit people who are physically or mentally ill or enclosed in school classrooms or rooms.  Just like we feel tired after a day’s work, a care dog can feel tired after interacting with strangers.  Some dogs, like some humans, have a tendency to bring the woes of others home with them; a happy care dog should let clients’ woes roll off their backs.  A happy human or dog leaves work at work.
  • Even pups with disabilities themselves are welcome, in fact they may actually offer even more inspiration to people with similar challenges. We have had a 3-legged dog visit a place for injured service people. She was a great success

Some dogs are just not suited to be care dogs; they may not have the temperament or may have an unknown health condition which precludes them from the job.

If your dog is nervous around strangers, it will be necessary to socialise them better before applying to join. But even the most responsive, affectionate pet may never develop the knack for being a Canine Concern care dog. It doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with the dog, we are all different and with different skills, and so are our dogs

It is important for you, the owner, to become brilliant at interpreting visual signals of discomfort in your dog and learn to act on them immediately. That’s not always so easy to do as we might be so intent on doing this work with our dogs, but we must put their health and wellbeing before our wishes of helping others. A Canine Concern care dog must be happy, healthy and calm, yet confident.

We welcome any breed, cross breed, large, small, hairy or short hair. Each individual dog has its own merits depending on the visiting establishment’s requirements.

A large dog can be reached easier by a patient in bed or sitting on a chair without bending, however, if there are small enclosed spaces with lots of equipment, a large dog can be awkward. A small dog can be placed on chairs and even laps if on a blanket. A cuddly, fluffy dog can be lovely to hug, but not so good if someone has an allergy.

Some people will enjoy seeing a breed they have owned, whilst others enjoy seeing different dogs.

The important requirement for a Canine Concern care dog is that they have the right temperament and obedience.

The youngest a puppy should be is 9 months, although this can sometimes still be too young for the puppy to cope with the demands.

A puppy goes through several fear periods, which can last two to four weeks. During this time a puppy can react to unusual situations and this can even give behavioural problems. This happens at about six to 14 months, although it varies for individual dogs.

So please ensure your dog has gone through this, sometimes you might not notice it as some dogs show just mild fear, but please be aware of the age.

It is important that your dog is physically and emotionally healthy and mature, but not weak and old. Adult dogs are better able to deal with the challenges of this work than puppies.

Some people are overly eager to get their puppies involved in our work, yet puppies deserve to have a puppy-hood before they begin working. They need to have lots of fun first. This does not mean that you should delay training until a puppy is an adult. Proper, age-appropriate socialisation and training are essential for a well-mannered dog, whether a care dog or a companion.

A happy Canine Concern care dog is emotionally resilient and has a healthy, mature immune system.

Even if your dog has been enjoying this work for years, it is important to acknowledge when they are too old and need rest. They might even be too mature to start this work. We would not expect a retired person to suddenly enjoy working after they have had time to relax and enjoy more sedentary days.

We might think our dog loves the work, dogs are stoic and always want to please us, except the dog’s body language might suggest otherwise. They might look miserable, with a stiff body, mouth closed, ears back, tail down and head turned away from the clients.

We ourselves might be so overwhelmed with oxytocin and pleasure gained from helping people that we don’t see that our dog is extremely uncomfortable. Maybe they have always loved their work, but maybe that was then, and this is now.

This work can be the highlight of a dog’s week, but it can also be stressful, and it’s common for dogs to enjoy it for a few years and then be ready for retirement. Please be conscious of your individual dog’s needs. A happy Canine Concern care dog enjoys and copes with ALL the demands of their important work.

Canine Concern welcomes rescue dogs. The dog must be with the owner at least 6 months before applying. This is to ensure that you have forged a bond and trust in each other.

A rescue dog may come with issues that need to be worked through, or be very subdued and fearful, with issues which start once they feel settled in your home, after about 6 months.

Once the dog becomes settled and the true temperament shines through, they can become some of the best care dogs. We have possibly just as many rescued dogs as breed dogs working for Canine Concern.

Our founder, Eve Waring, always rescued dogs and part of the ideals of Canine Concern was to prevent so many dogs becoming unwanted due to incorrect handling. She encouraged our members to demonstrate to children as well as adults how to treat dogs, with positive training methods and appropriate treatment.

The assessment process is essential for us to check that your dog is suitable for this work. If the temperament is not suitable, then it can be detrimental for the dog’s wellbeing and happiness as well as a possible accident waiting to happen to the people we visit. We want to give these people benefits and certainly not injuries, so this is important.

A dog is an animal, even though they are usually friendly and wouldn’t dream of hurting anyone. However, if they are hurt or feeling uncomfortable or fearful, they might snap quicker than usual and end up hurting someone. We would do the same.

The assessment starts as you approach the approved assessor. They will be watching to see if there is a bond between you and if you approach as a calm, happy team with no pulling from you or your dog. There must be no jumping up at the assessor or any passer-by.

If the assessor feels that the potential team are good so far, then they will go into an enclosed space where the assessor can quietly touch your dog all over, maybe a little inappropriately and roughly, to ascertain the tolerance of your dog. They are permitted to react but not bite or growl.

The assessor will chat to you to check that your dog will wait patiently, without pestering for attention. They will also check to see if your dog takes treats gently without the assessor feeling their teeth.

If the assessor is happy still, they will continue the assessment on to meeting the general public. This can be in a dog friendly pub, café or shop. Some assessors even manage to do the assessment in a care home willing to accommodate us.

The assessor will observe how your dog reacts with the people, the equipment and the noises and smells. They will also watch the way you both react to each other and how your dog might turn to you for support if feeling uncomfortable.

Many people say that they did not realise they were being assessed, they were just enjoying the experience. We all feel nervous when we are having a test, and our emotions will affect our dog as well as how they behave. The assessors are aware that you will both be nervous so will take that into consideration. If they have any concerns, they might suggest you work on certain issues, then return for another assessment at a later date.

The assessment process usually only lasts 30-40 minutes, but often longer if you and the assessor end up chatting! It can be a very social activity with hopefully a positive outcome. Remember, it is not an exam, just a relaxed meeting to ascertain if your dog will be happy with the work.

You can never fail an assessment; however, you might result in having a referral after the first assessment, with some issues to work through. It does not mean your dog is a bad dog, just that for safety reasons, there might be some little things to tweak.

For example, we often ask our dogs to ‘give a paw’ when offering food. This is a no no when visiting people, as the elderly could have thin skin which can be damaged, or a child might be scratched. It might take a few weeks to retrain this habit, but it is feasible.

You have not wasted the assessors time, or even your own, as you have learnt the next step to eventually become a lovely care dog team.

The only time you would ‘fail’ is if your dog is so unruly and uncontrollable, or skittish and scared by everything and anything, that they would never make a suitable care dog. The other main reasons would be they are not a suitable age or are not healthy.

On the whole, most of us would already know if our dog was not be able to cope with this type of work, and we would not put them through the assessment in the first place.

Volunteer member

You will be a responsible member of a working team, and need to watch and evaluate the client, the surroundings and your dog. You will probably come home a little tired but feel it’s the most rewarding thing you’ve ever done with you dog.

This can be important and wonderful work; good for you, good for your dog and good for people desperate for the same glow we get when we cuddle with our own dogs. Spreading the love of your dog is a beautiful thing, but it needs to be done with knowledge and foresight so that it’s a win-win situation for everyone.

It is up to you, the owner of the care dog, to know what environment your dog performs well in, and to understand any underlying fears or stress. Reading their sometimes discreet body language is so important, as any dog when stressed can go from a warning sign, to snapping or biting if they do not feel comfortable, or are being hurt. Your dog must feel they can trust and rely on you to stop any inappropriate action by people you visit. This is why the assessment will involve observing how you as a team together, both human and dog.

Another point to consider is that it can be distressing for us to see people we visit suffer and even pass away. Will you get too upset?

We are not a counselling service, but it sometimes helps to speak to the people who work in the place you visit, other local Canine Concern volunteers or staff at head office.

Remember, you must not suffer alone, it is okay to be upset, but it is important to be able to move on and be strong, emotionally and physically, for your dog and your family. It is not weak to ask for help; it is actually very strong and sensible.

You might find you prefer to visit a school or university rather than a care home, hospice or hospital. You will find out which is your favourite place. Many people alternate between schools and care homes to get a variety of demands and energies for their dogs as well as their own.

If you wish to visit a school you might need to have a DBS (Disclosure and Barring Service) police check for unspent convictions. This is often completed by the school, or we can arrange for it to be done.

Some other places might ask for one too, but most do not as we are always working with a member of staff present. Some hospitals and schools also ask for references, although we do not require these normally. If this is required, we will organise it after you have joined.

Even if you don’t have a dog or aren’t sure if your pet is suitable, you can still get involved in this rewarding, important work by becoming a supporter of our charity. You do not need a dog to join us as a supporter.

You would be welcome to help with any events or talks, and will also have the opportunity of supporting one of your local Canine Concern care dogs in their visiting role.

You could be an experienced dog trainer who has promoted positive training. Donating your time and helping to assess suitable dogs is a great way to help promote animal therapy.

Or maybe the staff at your company would enjoy a wellness day? If so, why not invite some Canine Concern care dogs over for a visit to help de-stress your staff. After all, happy staff will work more effectively and produce better results!

As you are kindly volunteering your time and energy, don’t want to charge you too much to join. Because we are a charity who believes in being inclusive and welcomes people from all walks of life and financial situations, we ask for a nominal annual donation of just £11, which is lower than similar charities. If you feel you can afford more, then please feel free to add an additional donation to the minimum request, but we do not expect it. Your kind offer of regular visits is plenty.

You will receive our physical welcome pack, complete with ID badge, lanyard, and important documents. You will also be covered by our liability insurance and support throughout the year.

Once you have joined, if you wish to wear clothing with our logo embellished on, or if you wish to have Canine Concern branded accessories for yourself or your dog, please purchase these via our official agility wear supplier on our members page.

We encourage your children to accompany you on these visits if they wish. It is good for them to see how important their pet dog can be to others.

It is also good for them to understand how others have to live, whether elderly, or mentally or physically poorly. If you intend to take your child with you, for an extra £3, we will supply them with their own ID badge and lanyard.

They must, however, remain with you at all times.


We welcome new assessors as we are a growing charity. Over the last few years we have grown in both member numbers and location we visit.

We look for experienced dog owners or trainers who use positive methods of training.

A care dog needs to feel they can trust and respect their owner, not fear them, as fear could lead to aggression. Which would not be good for a happy, reliable Canine Concern care dog.

If you are interested in volunteering your time to help with this very important part of the process of becoming a Canine Concern care dog, please contact us.

We give a comprehensive written guidance as well as a simple tick box form to fill in. If you have any concerns, we are here at head office with our experienced dog trainer trustee, who has also been an experienced Canine Concern visitor for many years.

We actively seek support from the public and corporative bodies, as without your help we could not survive.

The more funds we generate, the more we can put directly back into the community with our Canine Concern care dogs and related schemes.

Should you want to make a regular or one-off donation, there are many easy ways you can do this. Please see our make a donation page for full details:

Make a Donation – Click here

To run a charity successfully costs money, from joining, supporting and insuring our volunteer members, to arranging visits and supporting the places we visit.

Every member cost us an average of £60 every year to support. Yet our membership fees are low so that there is no financial burden on members, who volunteer their services to us free of charge.

We also show our appreciation to our members by giving annual awards to those who have volunteered for us for 3 years, 5 years, 10 years, 15 years and even some for over 20 years.

We also give awards to people who have excelled in one way or another. This all costs the charity, but is something the trustees feel is important. All our members are volunteers who give up their own time and energy to provide these visits and do not ask for anything in return.

Our members feel the smiles and mental health improvements, which gives a reward better than any financial gain. So our giving an award to show appreciation is always well received.

There are even costs such as office equipment costs, from initial purchase, to maintenance, and finally to replace.

We try to keep all of our expenses to a minimum, but they are essential in any charity.

Places we visit

All visits are different depending on the place you are visiting, the health of the people you are visiting and you and your dog’s skills and personality.

We offer guidance as to what might be expected, but each school or care home might ask for a different approach.

Remember, we are not staff, so should always have an actual member of staff present to guide us to what is required of our dogs.

We can be there solely for stroking or cuddling, instigating others into talking about their past experiences with dogs or other pets, maybe a willing ear to listen to worries or concerns (we have often heard about family or friend problems). Children might like to know about the care and responsibilities of owning a dog. The list is endless.

Sometimes we find that just one or two people have interacted, but for those people it might be the highlight of their day or even week. Sometimes a calm dog and owner being present in a room can calm stressful people.

Just remember how you feel when your dog welcomes you home with a smiley face and waggy tail (even if you find out they have chewed your favourite slippers or cushions whilst you have been out).

We recommend no longer than an hour per visit, and if you do two visits in a day, you must have at least 30 minutes in between chill out time and time for your dog to relieve themselves.

We will try to accommodate as many of the requests for visits that we receive as we can. If we haven’t got a member in your area available for extra visits, we can put you on a waiting list and advertise for more volunteers in your area.

We are recruiting more members every week nationally, so it is quite likely that we would have someone available to visit very soon after your request. Please remember, we are not a member of your establishment’s staff, so please have an actual member of staff available to support our volunteer members throughout their visit.

We do visit people in their own homes, but due to the higher risks involved we would prefer the visit to be in a group session. Maybe the person you would like us to meet visits a day centre or hospice? If so, we could arrange to see them there. If this cant be arranged, as long as you can guarantee another responsible person will be there for the whole visit, we can try to find an available volunteer.

All of our visits are free as they are on a voluntary basis. However, if our volunteer needs to pay for travelling expenses or parking, we would appreciate them being reimbursed.

However, we do always appreciate a donation to our charity, no matter how small, to show your appreciation. Some places we have visited have even arranged raffles or sales for our charity.

Please do not feel it is essential though, as we will still visit you whether we get any donation or not.

Donations can be paid to us in a variety of ways, details of which you can find on our donations page.