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Autism and Dogs – Archibald, The Assistance Dog

Autism and Dogs – Archibald, The Assistance Dog

Over the next few weeks we are going to introduce you to some  people who are autistic, have an autistic child, family member and their dogs. Not all the dogs are going to be assistance dogs. Some are just very loved family members and pets.

Dogs work in mysterious ways, I think it’s the joy, unconditional deep love and compassion they share as they bring comfort as therapy dogs, assistance dogs, companions, and as part of our families. That is my perception. I think everyone will have their own understanding of what their dogs mean to them.

There will be two directions of what is coming. The family dog who lives with autism in their family. The joy that dog brings. The connection they have, the smiles, love and acceptance without any judgement. A four legged friend who listens. The unconditional love that is present.

The assistance dog who is being specifically trained to assist an autistic person.

Seeing first-hand accounts of how they all get on, how much the dog brings to a family, how someone made the decision to get and train an assistance dog, how complicated it can be, heart-warming, frustrating and the magic that emerges when you go the distance, stay with the hard work, connect on a deep level bringing you a four legged support that unlocks a door to greater freedom in an often hard to understand and cope in world.

Here is a wonderful and beautifully written account of how it is for Jade and Archie the assistance dog. It is a truthful and heart-warming insight of how it was and is for her.

By Tess Eagle Swan

Autism and Dogs – Archibald, the assistance dog

2020 for many, including myself, was a challenging year not even including the global pandemic. In May 2020, I finally got my autism diagnosis after trying to get one for almost ten years. I then began a learning journey.

During this time, I discovered the ‘Actually Autistic’ community and the online community of assistance dog handlers. I soon realised that an assistance dog might be an option for me.  I have quite a lot going on regarding disabilities, health and mental health. I am autistic, dyslexic and dyspraxia; I have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety and depression, and problems with my kidneys and chronic pelvic pain. I am also waiting for a diagnosis of Ehlers-Danlos syndrome.

Archie

My fiancé and I hadn’t planned to get a dog for a few more years, but he eventually changed his mind and said to could start looking at puppies.

We live in an apartment in London (without a garden), so a large dog such as a Golden Retriever or a Labrador wasn’t an option for us even though they have high success rates as an assistance dog.

I knew whatever breed we got it had to be a gundog, and I started looking at English Cocker Spaniels (show type). It seemed like the perfect breed as they’re active and are very happy to have a cosy day cuddling; they’re loyal, emotionally intelligent and fast learners.

(Archie right)

I found a breeder online who had two 11-week puppies left, by the time we were able to go and visit there was only one puppy left. He was confident and cheeky (also the one in the picture who had caught my eye). We brought him home the same day.

The first couple of months were very challenging. I worked from home and raised a puppy plus I had the puppy blues! No amount of reading (I should probably mention dogs are my special interest and I’ve been reading dog encyclopaedias since I was a child) could have prepared me.

It was hard; there were tears, poo explosions, always being attacked by a land shark, sleepless nights and what seemed to be endless bathing, the apartment smelt like disinfectant all the time, and it felt as if the washing machine was on 24/7.

I have built such a strong bond with my puppy Archie, which is crucial in building a healthy assistance dog and handler team. I know I can rely on, and he knows he can depend on me too.

As an English Cocker Spaniel, he is a needy dog he follows me everywhere; he even sleeps on my feet while I’m trying to make dinner! He is six and a half months old now and is making significant progress with his training.

Due to lockdown, we haven’t done many puppy classes, but I make time every day to train, play and provide him with enrichment. We started working with a brilliant assistance dog trainer called Laura Wild, who runs Wild Spirit Dog Training, who has supported me virtually in owner training Archie.

We still have a long way to go until he is fully trained, but he has made such progress with learning tasks to mitigate my disabilities.

He is learning a range of tasks such as deep pressure therapy (DTP), self-harm interruption and retrieving my phone in an emergency (so that I can call for help).

Archibald The Assistance Dog

Once he is fully trained, he will be a multi-purpose assistance dog (for autism, PTSD and medical response). I try to document our journey together on Instagram (@archietheassistancedog). Having Archie has given confidence and security. I can navigate social situations and situations that cause me high anxiety in a much better way, where I previously would have struggled.

Due to my fiancé’s job, I spend long periods alone, Archie gives me more independence, keeps me safe and comforts me when I need it. Archie gives me routine, makes sure I wake up early, makes sure I take regular breaks when I am working, and go outside every day.

Archie

Having an assistance dog is not easy, nor is it always fun.

When it is sick, you have to take care of that dog, go out for walks in the cold and rain, staff in shops denying you access because you ‘don’t look disabled enough’ and a massive time commitment regarding training.

Before I got Archie, I worked full time and was at university part-time studying my fourth degree. Within two weeks of having Archie, I dropped out of my degree to commit more time to raise him. I’ve had Team’s meetings with commissioners within local government and the NHS while Archie was flinging a pee pad around the same room, puppies are hard.

An assistance dog isn’t for everyone, but if you think an assistance dog is a right step for you, they can be life-changing. Archie has changed my life, he is full of love, and I adore him.

By Jade Pitchford-Waters

Dogs and Autism

Dogs and Autism

Dogs and Autism

Kratu is my assistance dog. I am what’s called an owner trainer. I found the whole assistance dog world very hard to navigate, it was confusing and unhelpful in places too. One experience was very hurtful.

Here is some information from people I know, who are excellent at what they do, and whom I trust to provide accurate, up to date and most of all the right information for anyone who would like to look into getting a dog to become an assistance dog, training one, or just researching before making any kind of commitment.

It is a commitment, it is hard work. The end result for me was Kratu and his support, help gave me so much more freedom. He was the catalyst for a huge life change for me.

Tess and Kratu

We did things that I never dreamt were possible. There will be ongoing articles about autism, dogs, how important they are to families, autistic people, children and introductions to understanding them a lot better.

Communication is so important to get it right as I know from often getting it so wrong! 

Learning how to communicate with a dog, their body language, when they are stressed, scared, nervous, happy, excited and how to respond is the key to a healthy balanced relationship with them.

Diet, nutrition, exercise and a lot more to come. Doing the best I can for my best friend is the least I can do, I set out to learn, research and educate myself, and I did.

I am happy to share with others, the key to canine communication, caring for the canines that in turn help us navigate life in an often difficult, strange and sometimes scary world.

The following information is a great place to start and will help inform and guide you to making the best decisions if you decide to go ahead and welcome a dog that will become an assistance dog into your family.

The following information has been shared by Hilary Armour, Chief Executive at Dogs for Autism:

There are four ways of getting an autism assistance dog

1. Apply to a charity who will supply you with a fully trained dog

  • The pros are that the charity cover most if not all of the cost, professional trainers will train your dog, there will be aftercare support for life.
  • The cons are that the dog always remains the property of the charity officially, it can be very difficult to get on the list for a charity dog and there can be a long wait (often a number of years). Only Dogs for Autism supplies dogs to people over the age of 10.

The charities who train Autism Assistance Dogs are Dogs for Good, Support Dogs, Dogs for Autism and Helpful Hounds

2. Buy a fully trained autism assistance dog from a ‘not for profit’ organisation who will provide you with a trained dog.

  • The Pros are that you will be supplied with a professionally trained dog – after care and support will be available but there may be a cost involved. The dog will belong to you. Because it is a ‘not for profit’ you can fundraise quite easily to help pay for your dog.
  • The dogs are expensive at upwards of £10,000 although this is a realistic cost, if the dog becomes ill and can’t work or dies you would need to buy another one! There is still a waiting list.

Two well established organisations are Autism Dogs CIC and Supporting Paws.

3. Buy a ‘ready trained dog’ from a company who provides ‘trained dogs’

  • The pros are that you have a dog who has been given some basic training so it will be easier than getting a puppy
  • The cons are that it is expensive, and there is no way of knowing if the dog is suitable as an assistance dog except for the word of the very persuasive vendor. You will still need to ‘owner train’ the dog to become an assistance dog.

I do not know of any reputable companies who do this and I would never recommend this as a route.

4. Buy your own pet dog and train it yourself – become an ‘owner-trainer’

  • The pros are that you can start your journey very quickly, You have control over the process, you can start with either a puppy or a dog. There are organisations who can help you train your dog to become an assistance dog.
  • The cons are, if your pet dog turns out not to be suitable (it may be nervous of certain things or really not enjoy doing public access for instance) then you are left with a pet dog and no assistance dog. You will need to fully commit to the training of the dog so time and capacity may be an issue.
Dogs for Autism logo

Pawsable.com specialise in teaching owners to train autism assistance dogs – autism is their speciality.

Other organisations include Helpful Hounds who also have an owner trainer scheme and Sherlock Hounds.

Details can be found on their website:https://www.helpfulhounds.org.uk/

Each organisation works slightly differently and has a different cost structure so it is worth doing your homework!

Things to look out for and avoid….

  • It is worth applying to the charities and doing what you can to get on their lists as a few years may feel like a long time now, but autism doesn’t go away and time flies by.
  • If you are going to owner train – particularly if you have children,  be acutely aware that sometimes puppies and autistic children are a really bad combination. Many autistic children can’t make the link between the unpredictable and frankly pretty scary little land shark that bites their hands, pulls on their trouser leg and chews their favourite toys with the lovely calm 6 year old Labrador at their aunty ’s house whom they love. Please never assume that an autistic child will forgive a puppy it’s foibles because puppies are cute. Building the bond between the child and the dog is crucial, and you really need to get some advice in advance from one of the organisations above if you haven’t had a dog before.
  • There are some breeds which are more suited than others to the role.
  • Sight hounds and scent hounds such as beagles, basset hounds, Hungarian vizslas and pointers are naturally driven to hunt and not natural autism assistance breeds
  • Guarding breeds such as German Shepherd dogs, Rottweilers and Dobermans are incredibly sensitive to stress and anxiety and are not naturally suitable breeds to assist people with autism
  • Terrier breeds are highly motivated to hunt and chase and are hard to train as assistance dogs.
  • The breeds that tend to work well are the gundog breeds such as Labradors, Golden retrievers, spaniels, poodles and mixtures of those such as labradoodles, cavapoos, Cavachon’s etc. They are biddable and easily trainable but this does NOT mean they are ‘easy to train’.

Before getting a dog please remember that dogs bark (end of story— dogs bark!!!), they shed their fur, they need walking twice a day in all weathers, they roll in and eat unspeakable things, and sometimes you ask them to do something and they completely ignore you!

They are sentient beings, they have a personality and will, and they will need at least two years of consistent training input and above all PATIENCE and understanding when things don’t go according to plan.

Dogs for Autism logo

Because of this, even though they may love dogs, a full time assistance dog is not always the right choice for an autistic person.

Dogs will not always follow your schedule in the way that you want them to.

When you own a dog you need to have some ability to be adaptable to its needs when they don’t coincide with yours and to be able to manage unexpected change – or at least have strategies to cope.

Hilary Armour, Chief Executive at Dogs for Autism
Website: www.dogsforautism.org.uk

 

Accessibility
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