Meet the Nottinghamshire trainer helping to train dogs to transform lives

Sarah with her 10-year-old rescue Belgian Malinois Pip
Sarah with her 10-year-old rescue Belgian Malinois Pip -Credit:Sarah Whiteley

They say they are a man's best friends. Always by our side and always there to greet us the second we enter our homes.

But for some, dogs are about far more than that. They are quite literally lifesaving - from detection dogs to assistance dogs.

It takes hours of hard work and dedication from trainers across the country to be far more than just company. Sarah Whitele has helped train thousands of animals across the area and is now a finalist in the Animal Star Awards for her business Boots and Paws, which she has been running for around a decade.

Sarah, of Oldcotes, near Worksop, explained she originally started out as a dog walker and then decided to learn more about training and now helps dogs become assistance animals. She said: "I've been training assistance dogs for people with mental health problems, mainly post-traumatic stress disorder.

"I'm training a couple of dogs at the moment for two women who have autism as well as other medical conditions and an anxiety disorder. I have also just taken a position with Darwin Dogs UK, which is an assistance dog company that works with Assistance Dogs UK."

Sarah's dog Dave, who she is training to be an assistance dog
Sarah's dog Dave, who she is training to be an assistance dog

She added: "I'm training up Dave who is my dog, and I'm training him up to be an assistance dog for anxiety, as I suffer with anxiety but dog training helps me through it." Sarah explained that it was after she took on a rescue dog "with a few issues" years ago that she wanted to learn more about training.

She said: "I wanted to help her but I wasn't sure how to go about it. I found some online study courses and ended up studying for a few years and read all these books and did practical courses."

After this, someone contacted Sarah to ask if she could help their dog with lead pulling and from 2015 she started offering obedience training before going into the behavioural side as well. Sarah has won multiple awards over the years, such as with the Pet Products and Services Awards and also the Corporate LiveWire Global Awards.

Sarah has recently been announced as a finalist in the 2024 Animal Star Awards for the Dog trainer and behaviourist of the year category. When asked how she felt to become a finalist, she replied: "I was shocked, I didn't know that I had been nominated at first and then I got the notification and thought that would be it.

"Then I got the message about a month or so later saying I was a finalist and I couldn't believe it." Regarding her business, she continued: "I specialise in aggression and reactivity in dogs as well as anxiety issues.

"I also train assistance dogs to help people who suffer from PTSD and suffer from mental health. I am currently training an assistance dog for someone who suffers from really bad anxiety and suffers bad panic attacks and having an assistance dog has made her life so much easier.

"I am also training my own dog called Dave to be an assistance dog to help me due to myself having PTSD and disabilities." She added: "I love what I do and love to help people.

"I have spent a few years studying to get where I am today and every day is a school day, if I am not training then I am studying or writing courses and blogs. I have studied and attended various different courses and gained many different qualifications and levels."