Posts Tagged ‘autism dogs’

I went with the younger two boys to choose our puppy today. Although our dog isn’t going to be a service dog – he is going to live in a family with a severely autistic child and therefore it was important to choose the right pup. We’re also hoping that he will become a bit of a therapy/interaction dog for Archie so we were looking for a dog with an excellent temperament.

Entering the world of dog breeding is always a bit of a minefield – anyone will tell you there are some breeders out there that you would do well to avoid. We have been extremely lucky in that we have found an excellent golden retriever breeder very near us. Goldendance Golden Retrievers based in Cornwall really do go the extra mile. We met the Mum when she was in the early days of pregnacy and the aunt and they really are dogs with a lovely temperament. Goldendance take their responsibilities as breeders very seriously and as well as all the health checks work on early socialisation and preparing the pups for family life. The pups are introduced to cats and children, played CD’s of loud noises, handled, have their claws clipped and grow up in the midst of the family home. They’ve taken a CD of Archie being Archie (i.e. a bit loud) and will play that to the pups so they’re all desensitised to him, and we left a blanket behind that had been rubbed in our hair and on our faces so the pup was left with our smells. If you’re looking for a well bred golden I highly recommend checking out their website.

Anyway I had a re-read of Golden Bridge: A Guide to Assistance Dogs for Children Challenged by Autism or Other Developmental Disabilities by Patty Gross, the autism dog bible and she has some tips on picking a puppy. She explains that you need to pick a puppy that is

  • people oriented but not overly dependent
  • confident but not brash
  • brave but not impulsive
  • I found it hard to choose. All the dogs were gorgeous. Luckily Carol, the breeder was available to help. She has previously provided dogs for Woofability and was able to help us select the most suitable dog. I was initially drawn to a very forward dog but Carol explained that he might be a bit dominant and this is something Patty Gross suggests avoiding for a child with autism. We went for the one who was happy to investigate the children’s laps but a little reserved, more sensitive and gentler than his brothers. Carol showed us that he was happy to expose his tummy and happy to fall asleep away from a big huddle of puppies. All signs of a secure little pup.

    So little Chewie was selected, cuddled and named and promptly fell asleep. We’re hoping to go back with Archie soon so we can start to introduce Chewie and Archie to each other. We have four weeks to get the house and garden puppy proofed and then the fun will start in earnest.


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    Chewie our newborn puppy that is.

    I’m still not entirely sure how we’re going to train him. Now he’s been born we need to start researching this. I spoke to the breeder tonight and in between playing the puppies a CD of fireworks, babies crying and hoovers she is going to play a CD of Archie shouting and screaming. She’s very dedicated- it will be quite an unpleasant CD. Of course the idea is to desensitise the pups.

    After that I’m not sure. Basic training and socialisation to start of course. Followed perhaps by more specific retrieval training. A friend told me today about PAWS (Parent Autism WorkshopsAnd Support) run by Dogs for the Disabled where though  a series of three workshops they teach you to get the most out of your family pet. To attend your child needs an autism diagnosis. I contacted them this morning and received a very quick reply  with further information. I’ve decided to attend the training in Cornwall sometime in the Spring. Venue and dates to be confirmed. There are already confirmed dates and venues for workshops in Liverpool, Kenilworth, Wytham (near Oxford), Uxbridge and Evesham.

    I’ve created a new category for the blog – Dog training- where I’ll try to provide regular information about our attempts to train Chewie. I don’t claim any expertise in this area. If you have any please get in contact!

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    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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