Author Topic: Autism Dogs for Children  (Read 453 times)

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Offline virginiaspangled

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Autism Dogs for Children
« on: August 05, 2017, 05:19:18 PM »
Hello, I would like to hear from people who successfully have dogs to support their children with autism whether they are ESAs, SDs, or just great pets. 

I feel like a dog could be a great support to my daughter age 7.  It would be great if s/he could be a lap dog in the car to keep her still and calm.  She loves the sensory input of tug of war.  She needs the unconditional friendship that only a dog can offer.  I read about dogs being trained to respond to panic attacks and anxiety, or leading children away from busy streets they are about to wander into.  All that would be great. 

However we've had some bad experiences.  Currently I have a rescue puppy age 6 months (and about 45 pounds) that's been biting her.  He has not injured her or drawn blood.  One time she was just walking past him in the living room, and this morning, she was attempting to lead him outside which I've done a hundred times with no problem.  He also snapped at my other daughter while he was in a sit waiting for me to tell him to eat, and he also bites playfully while playing. 

My adult son had previously adopted the dog from a rescue and then gave him to me 3 days later, so obviously that's part of our problem, it's a rescue puppy, I didn't choose it, or even have a chance to weigh in on whether this was best for us.  I tried my best for four months.  The rescue has a policy that they will not take dogs back unless they've been professionally trained. 

I have reservations about putting a bunch more money into getting the dog trained now, because I'm pretty sure a dog who bites my child isn't a good fit (or will be safe during that process).  But I have some experience with autism, with my own kids, and other peoples kids, and my experience is that kids with autism tend to have behaviors that look like this:  high pitched noises; sudden unpredictable movements; not respecting boundaries or space which includes dogs; may unintentionally do something rude, like wake someone up, including dogs; trouble forgetting rules at times (like don't put your hands in the dogs face); total sensory meltdown including screaming in terror. 

So how do you get a dog for a child with autism?  Will a rescue of any age ever be ok?  I don't know if it is somehow my fault the dog is biting her or its just his personality.   I've been trying to train him and set boundaries, we never leave him alone, he's crate trained and I think in an adult only home he would be eager to please, a ready to learn snugglebug, but he doesn't like the kids.  I have tried to research specific breeds and I have come up with shih tzu's and pugs as being breeds that are more calm but I have also read that when they are from a rescue their temperament might not be what you would expect from that breed. 

How do autism dogs manage to stay calm?  Is it their breed?  Their family genetics?  Extensive training?  Pure luck? 

Offline ccunnin3

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Re: Autism Dogs for Children
« Reply #1 on: August 05, 2017, 07:12:09 PM »
Okay, you asked a bunch of questions so I'm gonna try and answer a few. I do not have a child with an autism dog but I do work with a few children that do. They are all part of triad teams. That is when a parent handles the dog on behalf of the disabled child. For example, the child holds a leash ot handle on the dog's vest but the parent also holds a leash and gives commands. This method is much safer than expecting a child to manage a service dog on their own (it's harder than it looks!) 

Autism service dogs are calm because of a mixture of temperment and training. Temperment is a product of genetics (breed and family).

Some rescue dogs make great service dogs. Most do not.

If your pup is biting on the regular it probably isn't a great candidate for service dog training.

Also, pugs are generally not recommended as service dogs because of their faces. They tend to have trouble breathing in heat and stress and they also make a lot of noise (snoring, snorting, etc).
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Offline OlgatheGSD

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Re: Autism Dogs for Children
« Reply #2 on: August 05, 2017, 07:50:44 PM »
I am worried that the dog is biting and snapping at your child. At the sake of your child, especially one sensitive to their environment, I'd give the dog away or find another shelter to take him. Don't bother with a rescue that only wants to give away untrained dogs just to get back trained ones. I would also not consider getting another dog at all until that one is removed from your home. Your current dog may bite the new dog, become aggressive to everyone even moreso, etc. It's best to just wait and look for a great dog regardless of breed. I think temperament is more important than breed, especially when dealing with children. To save money on paying for puppy and breeder costs, just shop around at local shelters until you are able to greet one multiple times that shows a consistently calm temperament and high tolerance to your child. I got Olga after a few trials. First was a few hours, then a day, then a week. Her temperament was consistently tolerant of many things so I decided to keep her. More than one meeting with a dog hopefully will show you what a dog looks like on better and worse days.

I had a Chessie that I retired to a home with an autistic child as a companion animal and she loved it. She was the calmest dog I have ever met so she was great for the child. But, her older brother was a complete 90 pound dimwit and would sit on a kid like they were a couch. Breed means next to nothing in the realm of temperament. You can't train calm and tolerance into a dog that is already biting your kids.
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Re: Autism Dogs for Children
« Reply #3 on: August 05, 2017, 08:23:47 PM »
First off - in order to get a service dog or an ESA, your daughter must be disabled by her autism. I would speak to her doctor about whether they believe that she's disabled and if an ESA or service dog would be a good option for her.

Also, if you end up getting her a service dog remember to NEVER depend on the dog, EVER. Service dogs are meant to mitigate the symptoms of a disability; they cannot be responsible for saving a person's life. This is because dogs are fallible. They can make mistakes, they can be injured or get sick, they can die. If your daughter becomes dependent upon the dog, it will be a very dangerous situation for her. So tasks where failure on the dog's part could put your child in danger (such as tethering tasks) should not be considered.


Anyways, as someone with autism, I agree that animals can be very helpful; be it a pet, ESA, or SD (and I've had at least one of each...well, a service-dog-in-training, but still). A relationship with a dog can be satisfying and is easy to maintain. The emotional support is a great bonus, and the tasks are a huge help*.


*I say this because you can teach ANY dog to do tasks, if you train them right and the individual dog is capable of learning/doing the task. For example, my mom has diabetes, but isn't disabled by it. If my dog were capable of alerting to her blood sugar, then of course we could train that task to help her out. It wouldn't make him her service dog, as she isn't disabled, but that doesn't change the fact that it's a helpful thing that the dog could do.



I agree that you should probably rehome the dog who bites. It's possible that the issue can get worse if it isn't properly addressed, and if you're looking to bring in another dog for your daughter it is possible that the current dog might act aggressively towards it. Of course, it's your dog and I'm not telling you what to do, just saying what I think is probably your best option, from the knowledge that I have. And if you're looking for a service dog, I wouldn't attempt to train that one for service work, as dogs need to have a certain mentality in order to work.



Here's what I would do in your shoes:

1. Determine if daughter is disabled
2. Determine if a SD, a pet, or an ESA is the best option
3. Hire a trainer with experience in temperament testing service dog candidates pick out the dog for you


You have a few options, though. For example, you can choose whether you want a dog from a breeder or from a rescue. If you're choosing a rescue, I'd advise against a puppy, as you have no idea what that puppy will grow up to be like. It's best to get an adult/young adult whose personality is already developed so you know what you're getting.

I'd also agree to avoid shelters with that weird return policy. A good shelter will accept back the dogs it adopts out, because they'll want to make sure that the dog gets a good home. To say that the dog needs to be professionally trained before they accept it says very, very bad things about their ethics, in my opinion.



Also, if you go the service dog route, have you considered going through a program? Programs can oftentimes be less expensive than owner training when done right, and then you won't have to deal with any dogs who wash out of training; you're given a dog pre-trained.
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Offline virginiaspangled

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Re: Autism Dogs for Children
« Reply #4 on: August 05, 2017, 10:50:03 PM »
Oh gosh, guys, hugs.  Thank you so much, I agree with all that and I feel really supported.  Thank you for telling me not to get another dog until this one has a new home because I didn't realize that but now that you say that, it makes sense.  I also agree that the rescue's ethics seem shady.  So I CAN get a dog from a rescue if I hire a trainer to professionally pick it--and adult obviously, not a puppy. 

I am not sure my daughter can handle going to many different trials with rescues to meet dogs she might not get, that would be stressful.  I know it would be too much uncertainty.  My kids with autism need to know what's going to happen next or they get anxiety. 

I don't have $10,000-$20,000 handy for a completely trained SD, if her doctor decided that was appropriate, and looking at programs can be discouraging as they cite the cost, the long wait lists, the strict limitations on who they serve (ie, veterans only etc), and the part that is most discouraging to me is when they say you are required to fundraise yourself half the money.  Honestly it would be a dream to have a dog that could help her in that way but while I do contact places and see about their wait lists I am not holding my breath. 

At this point I would be happy with a dog that doesn't bite anyone and has at least the potential to behave in a civilized manner in public.  With additional regular training.   :biggrin:

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Re: Autism Dogs for Children
« Reply #5 on: August 06, 2017, 12:09:40 AM »
So I CAN get a dog from a rescue if I hire a trainer to professionally pick it--and adult obviously, not a puppy.

Chances are generally better from a well-bred dog from a breeder for several reasons. It's less risky to get a puppy (though a young adult is still your best bet, from what I understand), and good breeders health test their pups. So even though going to a breeder is more expensive in the beginning, it can be less expensive in the long run since some rescue dogs were not well-bred and have chronic health issues that rack up vet bills. Also, because you can find breeding lines that are more suited to what you need (i.e. wanting show line vs working line, there are even lines that are bred specifically for service work in some breeds).

However, the choice is yours. If you want a rescue, there's nothing wrong with that! If you want one from a breeder, there's nothing wrong with that either. It's your preference.


Whether or not you go to a breeder or adopt from a rescue, though, I would HIGHLY suggest hiring a trainer to pick the dog for you. Even from a breeder. This is because not all puppies from a litter will have the best mentality for service work; it takes a very specific mentality to handle the stresses of being a SD. The trainer also has an unbiased opinion; they won't be swayed to pick their favorite puppy from the litter.




Finding a program can be a daunting task. I believe we have resources to help with that on the front end of the website, but I'm not sure where they are myself. Here are a few things that I know, though

*Oftentimes, programs will help you fund raise the money necessary to receive a dog

*Not all programs are the same; some are scams, some aren't great quality. It's important to look for any red flags to make sure that you're going through a legitimate program that will provide you with a proper service dog. I know that there are articles on the front end of the website that go over common red flags for programs.



Owner-training is another option, but is actually usually more expensive than a program in the long run.


Others can help clear up information on programs better than I can, so I'll leave it at that.



In any case, I do still think you need to speak with your daughter's doctor about whether or not she is disabled before you go further, because that will influence the type of dog you're getting (at-home SD, PA SD, ESA, or pet). The doctor can also help you decide what would be best for her, as each option may not be best for everyone.
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Offline Azariah

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Re: Autism Dogs for Children
« Reply #6 on: August 06, 2017, 12:42:43 AM »
The program in my city that I respect does not charge for their program dogs and their focus is on children and veterans. They fundraise heavily in the community. I am not naming their name as I am not trying to advocate for a particular program here. Am instead saying for children I know it could be possible to get one for less. The dog still costs that much to train but some programs help a lot with fundraising.

Calmness comes from genetics and training. Calmness was a factor I looked for in my puppy in the litter. I had to maintain it through training. Personality is very fluid st the puppy stage.

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Offline Suse

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Re: Autism Dogs for Children
« Reply #7 on: August 09, 2017, 09:56:03 PM »
Even if you have a trainer help in the dog selection, ask for a one or two week trial period. Often aggressive or other unacceptable behavior does not show up right away.     You cannot accept a dog that is going to be aggressive, anxious, non-toilet trainable, unsafe around your child or anyone else, etc.