Thank you to our dog trainer Sarah Ashley for this wonderful and informative article, “The Best Dogs for People with Autism,” an overview of what a service and support dog offers, how they work and which dogs are the best breeds to work as service/support dogs. Super important to know and research before jumping in to getting a dog.
We considered getting a service/support dog for Maci because we thought it might help her anxieties and her tendency to wander off – a super scary thought for me. Fortunately it did not happen very often and since she was young she would typically not get out of eyesight range. But, even for that slight moment, turning around and not having her immediately there was heart wrenching and terrifying. I knew we needed to figure out something to help us.
At the time, life was pretty full (still is!), so the idea layering in a dog to an already busy schedule seemed impossible and way too much. On the flip side, I kept hearing of fantastic benefits from families with support and service dogs.
I decided to ask our occupational therapist what she thought about the idea. I remember her answer to me like it was yesterday – and its been 9 years. She said, “people with a disability struggle with their self-confidence because the disability doesn’t allow them to experience the world/environment in the same way. This may cause internal anxiety and insecurity. The support of a support/service dog helps to aide and provide additional security and reassurance.”
I hadn’t ever considered how Maci could be feeling from that perspective and how a dog could aid and help her self-confidence. Think about it. We all want to feel the sense of security, safety and control over our own self. And, most of us have the ability to manage on our own. I felt saddened Maci that could potentially go through life feeling this way. So, even though we had a lot going on, I decided it was more important for Maci’s well being we get her the help of a service dog.
I started the journey by researching our options and all the logistics of getting a service dog. I found most of the organizations and places to get a service dog were pretty similar in the scope of what they offer. I ended up choosing an organization that was fairly close to us in Portland, OR. I made the call and began the process of learning how this all worked. I started getting the mountain of paperwork filled out which included getting referrals from doctors and service providers and videos of play and interactions of Maci with dogs. As I was getting my referrals, I asked our speech pathologist if she would help us. She happily agreed and also offered up her father who is a dog trainer to get videos with his dogs. This was great since we did not have any dogs, I needed to find someone to help us and bonus he was a trainer too.
I called him, and as we talked he asked if I was 100% decided on getting a service/support dog through an organization. I said no, but wasn’t sure how else we would get a service/support dog. He asked if we would be willing to consider getting a puppy and doing the training ourselves. He felt the bonding experience would be worth it for us. We would have the service/support dog and also another member of our family. After consideration, we decided to go with his recommendation.
Today we have Pebble who is now 6 years old. It took us about a year to fully train her, which was a big commitment and a lot of work. We have taken her many places including on the plane in cabin with us on a flight from LA to Seattle. I am very happy we chose to train Pebble ourselves and create the bond we have with her. I am not sure the extensive training and work it took would be suitable for everyone. We were very fortunate to have an awesome and incredible trainer. A dog whisperer in his own right.
We introduced an addition to our family 2 years ago and got a second dog, Arnie. A very playful, teddy bear of a dog. Maybe you have picked up on the name theme? Pebble (Pebble Beach) and Arnie (Arnold Palmer). I suppose we could have named the site Maci Arnie Pebble – MAP! Arnie is a little gem and sweet dog. However, Pebble is Maci’s dog and always will be. Their bond is unique and very special!
Before you dive in to getting a service dog, here are some questions/suggestions I recommend you ask/consider as you make your decision:
- What are the main reasons for getting a dog?
- What type of family/people are you? Important for knowing what type of dog will best fit for you and your family.
- Research different types of dogs, their behaviors, needs and characteristics.
- Even though a dog may be trained already, it’s important to do some of the training yourself and be knowledgable on commands, etc. Get educated.
- Be ready, prepared and equipped.
- Most important,