Posts Tagged ‘animal assisted therapies’

This week I am doing something I thought would never happen again – I am waiting for a new addition to our family to be born. No more children – I have my hands well and truly full with three, but instead we’re waiting for the birth of our golden retriever puppy.

In July I travelled to Germany to give a talk on severe autism and humour. Feel free to contact me if you want to know more. My talk was followed by a paper on autism therapy dogs which included video. These short clips interested me greatly as it showed a different use of therapy dogs than is usual in the UK.

I have written briefly about autism and dogs before and also reviewed a book about a boy and his dog. I was never entirely sure that this was all that relevant for Archie. He’s also now too old to receive a therapy dog from either Dogs for the Disabled or Support Dogs. I did write and ask why they had an age limit and they replied that it was because older children were less flexible. This led to my eyebrows raising a little because with increasing understanding Archie has become more flexible and we can actually reason with him a little now. I then heard that the age limit was applied because the dogs and children were attached (physically) to each other and an older child attempting to run could be too strong for the dog to block. This makes more sense.

Anyhow the video I saw in Germany showed a different type of therapy. Here the dog was being used as a playmate but in way that was structured by dog trainer. Mainly the dog needed to retrieve on command. The video showed children engaged with the dog and interacting in a way they hadn’t really before. It was fairly special and looked more accessible to us. I mentioned in a previous blog post that Archie had been very interested in my friend’s guide dog and had actually interacted with him in this sort of way. This experience coupled with chatting to the  presenter of the talk led to our search for a golden retriever.

Last year I started a new business to fit around the autism research I am currently completing – something completely different – I run a pet sitting business. As a result I have learned a lot in the last year about dog training (am very tempted to train properly if I can’t get funding to continue in autism research) – and am hoping to start applying that practically to our puppy. ABA has been a good background! I’ve been reading up on autism dog training – North Star in the States are the real experts and I’ve found other people taking on training themselves. We won’t be going down the service dog training route – I’m thinking more of a therapy type of playmate. We’ll start simply by teaching the dog to sit or fetch to voice or hand command – hand command being the Archie alternative of course (the breeder tried to demonstrate this to Archie but it just ended up with him sitting along with the dog!) I’ll probably look into Pets As Therapy as well when our dog gets a bit older.

We’ve been very lucky with finding a breeder – dog breeding can be a very murky world indeed, but we’ve found a lovely couple locally who occasionally breed their golden retrievers. They are working dogs so smaller than the show lines and their dogs have a lovely temperament with a few even having become service dogs for Woofability. They are happy to play the litter of puppies Archie’s sounds if we provide a CD so there will be a whole litter desensitised to sudden autistic type noises!

I’m checking their blog every day waiting for news of the birth – then the fun will really begin. 8 weeks to puppy proof our garden, work out training methods and finalise a name. Top of the list so far is Chewbacca (spot the house of Star Wars fans) – it has the advantage it can be shortened to Chewie for Archie.  Any advice – or name suggestions- appreciated!


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I’ve become very interested in animal assisted therapies recently. Partly because I’ve been getting quite involved in horse riding in general and  in equine therapy specifically, but I’ve also been surprised by the way being around dogs affects my son.  He’s not a great animal lover. He likes horse riding, but he finds fur difficult. I was therefore staggered to find him very interested, indeed fascinated by my friend’s guide dog. My friend’s dog is very calm which I think helps.

If this is something that interests you, you might be interested in the book Cowboy and Wills by Marni Wander. Amazon is giving a publication date of July, but you can find out more from the myspace or facebook page. I have been fortunate enough to have received a copy already and was interested to find that Cowboy is, like my friend’s guide dog, a golden retriever. Wills is much higher functioning that my son, but the changes described are similar to those I observed in my son around my friend’s dog. A lovely heartwarming story.

This might be (time permitting) the year we add to our family with a dog……..

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