Assistance dogs improve mental health of disabled young people

  • University of Sheffield research finds assistance dogs improve feelings of loneliness, anxiety, isolation and fear for disabled young people.
  • 86 per cent of disabled young people surveyed say their assistance dog makes them feel more optimistic.
  • Assistance dogs helped the majority of those surveyed to embrace their disability.

Woman in wheelchair with assistance dog

Assistance dogs have a significant positive impact on the mental health of disabled young people, according to a report by the University of Sheffield and charity Canine Partners.

Using surveys and interviews with disabled people aged between 18 and 35 who are partnered with an assistance dog, the researchers found 86 per cent felt more optimistic thanks to their dog.

Over 90 per cent of disabled young people surveyed reported feeling less lonely, 88 per cent felt less anxiety and 86 per cent felt less isolated. Assistance dogs were said to boost confidence for 90 per cent of participants, and help them to navigate social situations.

The dogs were said to put non-disabled people more at ease in social situations, and help 67 per cent of the young people to embrace their disability. Nine out of 10 of those surveyed said their dog had boosted their confidence, with some saying they had helped them to achieve major goals such as getting a degree and living independently.

Over two thirds of disabled young people said that, since getting their assistance dog, they relied less on support from human carers – with 81 per cent saying they had reduced the discomfort and guilt they feel when relying on human carers. More than half also felt that their assistance dog had helped them take better care of their physical health.

Dr Kirsty Liddiard, Senior Research Fellow at the University of Sheffield, said: “Our research makes clear the transformative impact an assistance dog can have on a disabled young person’s life – increasing their independence, building their confidence and helping them to embrace who they are.

“In the future, we would like to see policymakers, local authorities and care professionals making all young people with physical impairments aware of the possibilities and benefits of canine care.”

Sally Whitney, a disabled young co-researcher on the project, said: “Leading the project has been an honour and a joy as it is a topic that is incredibly important to me. It was because of my own experiences of being a disabled young person and having my assistance dog, Ethan, that meant I was so keen to work on the project. This has given me the impetus to probe further into the experiences of other young people and the results have shown an even deeper level of impact than I had anticipated. It is clear that assistance dogs do so much more than physical tasks and have a transformational impact on how young people receive care and, in turn, on so many aspects of their lives.”

Additional information

Learn more about the Living Life to the Fullest Project.

The University of Sheffield

With almost 29,000 of the brightest students from over 140 countries, learning alongside over 1,200 of the best academics from across the globe, the University of Sheffield is one of the world’s leading universities.

A member of the UK’s prestigious Russell Group of leading research-led institutions, Sheffield offers world-class teaching and research excellence across a wide range of disciplines.

Unified by the power of discovery and understanding, staff and students at the university are committed to finding new ways to transform the world we live in.

Sheffield is the only university to feature in The Sunday Times 100 Best Not-For-Profit Organisations to Work For 2018 and for the last eight years has been ranked in the top five UK universities for Student Satisfaction by Times Higher Education.

Sheffield has six Nobel Prize winners among former staff and students and its alumni go on to hold positions of great responsibility and influence all over the world, making significant contributions in their chosen fields.

Global research partners and clients include Boeing, Rolls-Royce, Unilever, AstraZeneca, Glaxo SmithKline, Siemens and Airbus, as well as many UK and overseas government agencies and charitable foundations.

About Canine Partners

Canine Partners is a registered charity that assists people with disabilities to enjoy a greater independence and quality of life through the provision of specially trained dogs, whose well-being is a key consideration.

More than 1.2 million people in the UK use a wheelchair, and a significant number of those would benefit from a canine partner. The dogs are carefully matched to the applicant’s needs and lifestyle, no matter how challenging. They are trained to help with everyday tasks such as opening and shutting doors, unloading the washing machine, picking up dropped items, pressing buttons and switches and getting help in an emergency.

The Charity is working in partnership with Help for Heroes, and aims to train dogs to meet the needs of people with even the most complex disabilities including members of HM Armed Forces.

These life transforming dogs also provide practical, physiological, psychological and social benefits including increased independence and confidence as well as increased motivation and self-esteem. A canine partner also brings companionship, a sense of security and increases social interaction.

Canine Partners receives no government funding and is wholly dependent on public donations and legacies.

Registered charity number 803680

Registered in Scotland SCO39050

Contact

For further information please contact:

Sophie Armour
Media and PR Officer
0114 222 3687
07751 400 287
sophie.armour@sheffield.ac.uk