How I Made It: 'I train assistance dogs to people living with disabilities'

Welcome back to How I Made It,’s weekly career journey series.

This week we’re chatting to Ella McNulty, an Instructor with UK-based charity Dogs for Good.

The 28-year-old from Manchester trains assistance dogs to help people living with disabilities and supports the matching process between dogs and their owners.

Ella has been in this role for six years now, but she’s been working with dogs in other capacities for longer.

Being passionate about dogs since childhood – and having a dog of her own – means she’s in her ideal career and has no plans to switch.

The dogs she trains help people navigate day-to-day activities, such as dressing and undressing, reaching up to shop counters and shelves, opening doors and even putting on a load of laundry.

Here’s how she made it happen.

Hey Ella. What made you want to work in this field? 

I have always loved animals, and in particular dogs.

Having had dogs throughout my childhood I was acutely aware of the many benefits they can bring, and this belief was enhanced by my degree and various volunteer roles.

I knew I wanted to work with dogs, but also wanted to be able to work with people too – this job is the perfect combination.

Before becoming an Instructor at Dogs for Good, I had worked and volunteered in a variety of dog-related roles.

I was very aware of the brilliant assistance they can bring – not only the physical support but also the companionship side of things too. It’s absolutely amazing seeing the positive impact our dogs can have on people’s lives.

How did you train for it? 

I studied animal behaviour as part of my Zoology degree and loved it.

Recently, I went on to complete a Masters in Animal Behaviour, which gave me the theoretical knowledge needed, as well as practical experience through different work placements.

Aside from formal/academic training, I had prior experience working with people and dogs (for example at the RSPCA), which set me up well for this role too.

What qualities do you need to be good at a job like this? 

I think you need to be empathetic, able to problem solve and think outside the box.

Sometimes a client asks for help teaching their dog a new piece of taskwork for example, and we have to be there to provide support, expertise, and think creatively to help the partnership flourish.

We also have to be prepared for anything – no day is the same.

How do you match dogs and humans? What sort of things do you look for?

As instructors, we get to know our clients really well – what kinds of places they visit, what physical taskwork they need, what their personality is like, and what their future goals with a dog are.

The taskwork assistance dogs can help with everything from picking up items our clients might drop, opening and closing doors, and even helping with the laundry.

The Training Team also get to know their dogs very well – what kinds of environments are they most confident in, what taskwork do they particularly enjoy, how much support do they need from their handler, are they particularly cuddly for example.

We then bring all these aspects together to find combinations of dogs and people that work perfectly together- supporting and bringing the best out of each other. 

An average day in the working life of Ella Mcnulty

9am: Online meeting with colleagues.

10am: On the road to a visit.

11am: Visiting a client and their dog (in their home or out and about e.g. in a shopping centre to practice public access or settling calmly in a cafe).

1pm: Ella has a quick lunch and walk with her own dog

1.30pm: Back on the road.

2.30pm: Another client visit, maybe at a park for recall practice, or in their home to introduce some new taskwork.

4.30pm: Drive home, then answer emails and/or phone calls with any clients who need her.

What do you love most about your job? 

I love seeing first-hand the difference assistance dogs make.

Being able to be just a small part of making such strong partnerships happen is so rewarding and inspires me every day.

What do you like the least? 

I do a lot of driving, so my least favourite thing would have to be traffic!

Having said that though, I love that I get to visit so many people in so many different places, and I certainly get through a lot of audio books.

How I Made It

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