'We're cool with all those dogs': Workshop helps people with disabilities connect with canines

Hutton House in London is promoting a program designed to help people with disabilities build relationships with dogs.

London charity teams up with dog behaviour consultant to run workshop

Connie and Bill Mitchell pet Braxton at the Hutton House. (Chris Ensing/CBC)

Brian and Connie Mitchell now light up whenever they see dogs.

"I love them all," said Brian, smiling as Connie pets Olive at Hutton House in London. 

The Mitchell's recently spent time learning the best way to approach dogs at Springbank Park.

The Dog Safety Basics workshop is run through a local charity, Hutton House, and is designed for people with disabilities .

Dog Workshop

5 years ago
Duration 1:02
A workshop at Hutton House helps people with disabilities connect with dogs in London.

"We go to different dog parks in the city," said Connie, who has Cerebral Palsy.

Connie and her husband Brian, who has a mental disability, visit London dog parks often - despite having only a cat as a pet.

"I've often had dogs jump on in my window just to say hello," said Brian, who said the dog park on Commissioners Road East is best in show. 

Connie Mitchell shares a hug with Olive at the Hutton House in London. (Chris Ensing/CBC)

Brian and Connie took the course earlier this summer to get a better handle on how they should approach animals that aren't familiar with them during their dog park trips.

Special Connections

"She loves Olive — they have this connection," said Fitness & Wellness Facilitator Kristy Hoornick while watching Connie embrace Olive with a loving hug from her wheelchair. 

Hoornick said the program was developed for people with disabilities that wanted to learn more about dogs and dog safety. 

Michelle Black and Kristy Hoornick help run the Dog Safety Basics workshop at the Hutton House. (Chris Ensing/CBC)

"Not just for themselves but also the dogs in general," said Hoornick, adding that participants were also taught how to spot animal abuse. 

Hoornick said that Connie and Brian have taken a lot away from the course - especially for a pair that went into the workshop as a 'cat couple'. 

"I love it," said Hoornick, as she watched Olive and Brian play with their two furry friends Olive and Braxton. 

She said an eventual goal at Hutton House is to introduce a dog therapy program. 

Best techniques

"Dogs are like people," said Michelle Black, a certified dog behaviour consultant and the founder and head trainer of PAWSitively Happy Home.

"They can have a variety of emotions and have different things going on in their life."

Black said there are three major rules people need to follow if they come across a dog they'd like to interact with:

  • Ask the dog's owner if they can interact with the animal
  • Call the dog over instead of encroaching on the dog
  • If the owner says no, say hello and walk away

The Mitchells said they keep those rules in mind when they head out to the dog parks. 

"So now we're cool with all those dogs," said Brian.

"And I'm pretty sure that they're cool with us."