Dogs for Good has been training autism assistance dogs since 2007 and enquiries for this service are currently at an all-time high. Last year over 2,000 people contacted us to ask how a dog could help a family member with autism.
It costs over £21,000 to train and support an autism assistance dog partnership throughout its lifetime, and we are currently only able to place around ten autism assistance dogs per year, supporting a further fifty partnerships with aftercare and ongoing support.
What does an autism assistance dog do?
Autism assistance dogs provide a calming focus for a child with autism when they are out and about. An autism assistance dog works with a team leader – usually a parent, and wears a harness that is discreetly attached to a child. The assistance dog helps to regulate walking speed and is trained to respond to bolting or other unsafe behaviours that are common in many autistic children.
A dog is also trained to give calming effects of deep pressure through a head or full-body rest, and parents are taught how a dog can be part of a strategy to interrupt repetitive behaviours.
Janet’s son Joel was partnered with autism assistance dog Caddie in 2012. “It’s overwhelming the difference Caddie has made; the focus has shifted away from Joel and laughter has returned to the family. Kevin and I are so much more relaxed now. Caddie has opened up the world to us and to Joel. Attached to Caddie’s special harness, Joel can’t run off, so I know he’s safe.
“Caddie is Joel’s constant friend, always by his side. He rests his head on Joel if he feels anxious, or even lies on him, which Joel finds deeply reassuring.”
How long does it take to train an autism assistance dog?
Every autism assistance dog trained by Dogs for Good goes through a high level of socialisation and training lasting nearly two years before he is partnered with a family. This ensures our dogs are able to cope with the many different environments and public places they may be asked to visit as assistance dogs. Find out more about how we train our life changing dogs.
In addition, we take time to understand the needs and lifestyle of each family we work with to find the right match for them. Once matched, each family initially undergoes an extensive training programme to help them to care and work with their dog. Once this is established we provide ongoing support and aftercare to the family throughout the dog’s working life and beyond.
Can a pet dog help autistic children?
In 2010, we developed our Family Dog service to share our knowledge and expertise of training dogs to help families with a child with autism. The workshops recognise that although an assistance dog is the right solution for some families, a well-trained pet dog can bring significant benefits to families.
Mum Kath, attended the Family Dog workshops to help her son Mitchell. “Once I looked into things, I realised that actually, an assistance dog wasn’t what we needed,” she explains. “We needed a well-trained, clever dog that would provide Mitchell with a friend and companion.”
Through a series of three workshops and an aftercare service, we provide parents like Kath with the information they need to source, select, handle and train a pet dog specifically to respond to the needs of their child. We are proud to say that so far we’ve helped over 1,200 families. Find out more and book workshops.