Supporting members with assistance dogs

Making everyone feel welcome is important to us

We’d like to help volunteers be more inclusive of members and other leaders with assistance dogs.

Some disabled members or volunteers may need an assistance dog to help with day-to-day tasks. It’s important that we’re inclusive, sensitive and supportive of anyone who needs an assistance dog in guiding, and that we’ve considered any reasonable adjustments we need to make so we can accommodate for this.

Whats an assistance dog? 

An assistance dog is a dog trained to support a disabled person with their day-to-day activities. They can be trained to help people with anything from hearing and/or visual impairments through to epilepsy, diabetes, mobility issues and more.  

There are lots of different types of assistance dogs, including guide dogs and support dogs. Some assistance dogs are trained by their owners, while others are trained by charities. 

An assistance dog is not the same as a ‘therapy dog’ or an ‘emotional support dog’. For more information on these definitions and differences, check out this useful guidance from Assistance Dog UK. 

Introducing an assistance dog to your unit 

The first step to being inclusive of any disabled member is having an open and honest conversation with them about any barriers they may face in the unit, and how you can remove them. Remember, an assistance dog is a working dog not a pet, so there are different rules about where they can go and how we interact with them. 

Just as every member is different, every assistance dog is different and will have different needs, personalities, and boundaries. The member will know their assistance dog best, so respect their wishes/decisions about their assistance dog. 

Remember, not all people with assistance dogs have visual impairments, and many disabilities aren’t visible. It may not be appropriate to ask someone with an assistance dog what they need their assistance dog for, as this might reveal private information about their disability.  

Don’t forget you can apply for funding from HQ to provide support for disabled members. 

Do’s and dont's 

We’ve put together a helpful list of do’s and dont’s when considering how to include a member or volunteer with an assistance dog. 


  • Ask the member what you can do to make sure others understand how to support them. For example, the member might want you to make an announcement reminding others that an assistance dog is doing an important, special job and so it’s important that the dog isn’t distracted during unit meetings. This would mean asking others not to touch, stroke, talk to or make intentional eye contact with the assistance dog. This won’t always be the case, so follow their lead on how they’d like others to interact with the assistance dog.   
  • Make sure you and the other members always speak directly to the member rather than to their assistance dog.  
  • Save a chair for the member with extra space for their dog and a clear path to the door.
  • Try to give advance warning about loud noises (such as moving heavy equipment or turning on music) as loud noises can startle dogs. 
  • Understand that members with assistance dogs might need extra or longer breaks, for example to take their dog outside for a walk or bathroom visit. 
  • Consider completing an adjustment plan with the member as a starting point to discuss any adjustments you need to make. Once you’ve filled one out, check in with the member regularly to review their adjustment plan and check whether there’s any additional support they need.


  • Depending on the member’s disability, the dog might be trained to alert them to life-threatening medical situations. So, make sure you don’t try to separate the member from their assistance dog.  
  • Say things like: ‘You’re lucky you get to take your dog everywhere.’ Remember, much as a member may adore their assistance dog, an assistance dog isn’t a pet and is with them out of necessity, not for fun.  
  • Leave dangerous edible items within the assistance dog’s reach, such as chocolate, grapes or raisins. While assistance dogs are generally trained to ignore all food items, it’s still best to be safe.  
  • Take an assistance dog’s photo unless you have explicit consent from the member.  

What if someone’s allergic to or scared of dogs? 

If you have a member who’s allergic to dogs, discuss how severe their allergy is with them. Depending on the severity of their allergy, you can take steps to make sure they have minimal or no contact with the assistance dog. For example, you could sit the member who’s allergic to dogs at the opposite end of the group from the member with their assistance dog.  

Likewise, if you have a member who’s scared of dogs, have a conversation with them about the steps you can take to make them feel more comfortable. It may be useful for those with a fear of dogs to know that assistance dogs are trained to stay by their owner’s side, remain quiet and focus on their owner.  

For further support, contact your local commissioner team or [email protected]. 

What if the assistance dog is a nuisance to other members? 

Assistance dogs are highly trained to make sure they’re always under control and won’t be a nuisance to anyone. For example, they won’t jump up and will usually lie down at their owner’s feet. 

Assistance dogs are also covered by their own insurance, which is issued by the organisation that the dog works for. 

What extra considerations are there for trips? 

A member with an assistance dog will be aware of any considerations for trips. Have a conversation with the member before planning a trip to discuss any adjustments you might need to make. For example, when travelling as a group, recognise that the member may need special arrangements such as traveling in a specific part of the train which has more space for the dog.  

You might find it useful to read this assistance dog travel guide on Guide Dogs' website. 

For further support, contact your local commissioner team or [email protected]

Useful links 

Assistance Dogs UK: a coalition of assistance dog organisations 

Hearing Dogs for Deaf people: training hearing dogs who change the lives of deaf adults and children across the UK 

Guide Dogs: helping blind and partially sighted people across the UK through the provision of guide dogs 

Support Dogs: increasing independence and quality of life for people with various medical conditions, specialising in three areas: autism assistance dogs, seizure alert dogs for people with epilepsy and disability assistance dogs for people with physical disabilities