Care in practice, Sweden

Laban is an affectionate Swedish term for someone rather tall and a little clumsy, but Laban the dog is more of a gentle giant - a black Labrador/Newfoundland cross. Laban’s potential was noticed by his owner, Yvonne, and Pernilla Berggren, one of the managers in the care-home where she worked. When Yvonne took him to work one day, even without any training, this puppy had a gentle ability to connect with people, especially older people with dementia, in a way that the staff at times could not.

Today, Laban’s place of work is Tallåsen, a care home for older people in the Swedish port town of Stenungsund, north of Gothenburg. Together with his owner and handler Yvonne, they form a ‘care-dog team’ and are a welcome sight in the halls and rooms of the care home, Laban always in his uniform and with an ID card. Laban and his handler received training from Sweden’s Vårdhundskolan (school for care-dogs), which has encouraged other health care professionals to prescribe sessions with a care dog.

“He is a charming dog,” says one of the residents: “it is always a highlight of the day to see Laban,” she explains, as he nestles his head into her lap.

Pernilla explains that even people with dementia seem to remember how to engage with a dog. Laban’s training means that he is used to behaving in a certain way when his wearing his uniform: he walks slowly on a lead behind Yvonne, gentle and humble; he never jumps up at people, his tail and head mostly down. Pernilla and Yvonne say that this behaviour means nobody is intimidated by him, even people who may be afraid of dogs or not used to them.

When Laban’s potential was first noticed as a puppy, it created a little tension among some staff, who also wanted to bring their dog or another pet into work. Pernilla had to be very firm: “I am giving permission for this particular dog to come here, because he is special.”

However, the staff soon saw how good he was at connecting with people with dementia or suffering from anxiety or depression. Laban has a particular habit of laying his big black head on somebody’s lap, applying a pressure which calms them down, then seeking eye-contact. He is also delighted to give some of the residents a much-needed excuse to get some simple exercise – by playing fetch-the-ball or tug-of-war with him – or even by helping to brush him. He also responds well to little games that result in him being given treats by the residents; this too helps residents, e.g. with motor skills and memory.

Laban is helping today to train up the next generation of care dogs – a slightly more excitable Inez, follows him round some days. In time, she too and her handler will become a much-valued care-dog team.

Find out more about Sweden’s care-dog programme online