Assistance dog study aims to improve on 50 per cent success rate

Jimmy Mai is researching how assistance dog training could be improved to increase success rates. (Supplied: Jimmy Mai)

A PhD candidate is investigating why only 50 per cent of puppies in assistance dog training pass muster.

Jimmy Mai of La Trobe University is conducting interviews and surveys as well as keeping a close eye on puppy training take place in Bendigo.

He hopes an analysis of training structures will revolutionise the in-demand assistance dog program around the globe.

"Before my research, most research in this area focused on selecting the right puppies, but they need to learn," he said.

"My focus is the puppy raisers, because they will help those high-quality puppies learn in the right way."

Improvements to training practices could lead to community benefits around the world, researchers hope. (Supplied: Guide Dogs Victoria)

Shifting the focus

Mr Mai says more support, improved training methodologies and collaboration with training organisations are the keys to greater success.

"The biggest difference is to look at the puppy raising practice not just from training methodology, not just the individual puppies, not just the raisers, but all of them," he said.

"When we look at all those factors in relation to one another, there are connections that would make it a lot easier, and perhaps we can encourage collaboration with interdisciplinary research and also engage the public."

La Trobe University psychology and counselling department head Pauleen Bennett said a greater focus on the puppy trainers could lead to immediate benefits for the community.

"There's an enormous amount of people who would benefit from an assistance dog in Australia," she said.

"There's a black hole where dogs are fostered out into the community, but then the problem of half the dogs aren't good enough for advance training.

"From my knowledge, Jimmy's project is a world-first — looking at the raising program with volunteers and seeing what makes it work and what we can improve."

'Magical' benefits

Dr Bennett said assistance dogs enabled a variety of people to thrive in the community.

"The benefits of assistance dogs are kind of magical," she said.

"I'm a scientist, so I don't do magic.


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