Puppy-Hazel-with-Jo-the-socReaders of the Countryside Alliance magazine will have been following the progress of puppy Hazel, trained by Dogs for Good (previously Dogs for the Disabled.) Hazel has been part of our “Dogs with Jobs” series, looking into how dogs work, assist and enhance life. Actress Jo Bennett, currently appearing in ITV’s new blockbuster series Jericho, has been puppy socialising Working Cocker Hazel in the next part of her training.

Jo says: Hazel is now 15 months old, and heading towards advanced training with Dogs for Good. It still doesn’t seem two minutes since I picked up the cutest eight week old Cocker Spaniel puppy you ever saw.

From that day on she has just taken everything in her stride; nothing fazes Hazel, she adores going to new places and meeting new people and she loves spending free time at home with my Labs or at the stables with me and the horses. She has a healthy respect for her equine friends and isn’t concerned by them at all. She’s very gentle with other small animals too.

Hazel is something of a local celebrity in the town were we live; all the shop keepers know her and she has even been on BBC North West TV news.

Right from the start I have introduced her to lots of new environments, from the local cafe to board meetings, from trains, buses, busy roads, lifts and stairs to crowds, beaches, pubs and horse shows and this little lady takes it all in her stride. This is perfect preparation for Hazel’s future as an assistance dog. It’s important that when she starts her formal training she’s a calm, well-behaved, confident young dog.

Hazel is probably one of the brightest little dogs I have ever known. I only need to show her something twice and she’s got it. Already she will pick things up if I drop them, she can open doors and she responds to commands instantly. She sits and stays no matter what is going on around her or what distractions are put in her way. Of course she’s not perfect; she does have her giddy moments and loves to kiss new people too.

She is a dab hand at fund raising too and even though she isn’t quite a puppy now, she still draws crowds when we do collections because she is so beautiful. People are more used to Labradors or Golden Retrievers as assistance dogs, so they are eager to find out that Dogs for Good also trains smaller breeds too. Then after giving her a fuss they can’t resist putting all their spare change in her bucket.

The other thing we do together is give talks and demonstrations to groups such as Scouts, Beavers, cadets etc. It’s great when we have a whole room full of children (and the adults too) astounded by what Hazel and other assistance dogs can do. I am thrilled when after meeting Hazel and watching the film about how these amazing dogs make such a huge difference to people’s lives, off they go to spread the word about the ‘Good’ our dogs do!!

I have always done voluntary work, but when I fell upon a link asking for volunteer Puppy Socialisers here in the North West, I was instantly hooked. To combine my love of dogs and my desire to help people and give something back to society was a dream come true. To play a small part in providing people with life-changing assistance dogs is so rewarding.

We receive great support from beginning to end from the charity’s North West puppy coordinator. Puppy socialisers and pups go to puppy class once a month and it’s fun meeting and comparing notes with the others.

We are then kept up to date with how our pups are doing once they move on to further training. The more puppy socialisers the charity recruits, the more lives could be transformed with an assistance dog.

More on the charity can be found here.