Josh the Buddy Dog
It's been almost two years since Royal College Manchester's buddy dog, Josh, made his first visit to the college and decided that he would stick around. A former Guide Dog, Josh's calm nature and his training helped him become one of the most popular members of staff.
For students who are learning to use their senses to explore their environment, interacting with a dog - stroking him, feeling him walk on the end of a lead or the way he wags his tail - is a fantastic sensory experience. Some young people are learning to notice when Josh is in the same room and to pay attention to what he does, while others are learning that they can reach out and initiate interactions with him! By developing these skills, our students with complex sensory and communication needs can better control when and how they interact with other people and with the world around them.
Spending time outside can be difficult for those students with anxiety or who have problems concentrating in new environments but Josh's presence gives them something calm and motivating to focus on. One young woman who has felt very anxious when she was going somewhere new has been able to spend more time in the community, and another young man halved the time he would spend walking from the college to the library when Josh came along, too!
One of the greatest benefits is in the number of families and residential staff who learn all about Josh, as some of our young people enjoy working with him so much that they talk about him at home! One young man staying in our onsite care homes over the half-term holidays missed seeing the dog and realised that he could see Josh if staff helped him make the arrangements. He asked, and everyone was glad to bring Josh in for a special visit. Recognising his own feelings, coming up with a solution and expressing his wishes calmly and appropriately is exactly the kind of self-advocacy we want all our students to develop.
So next time you see Josh, why don't you stop and say hello? He's always happy to make new friends!