Autism Assistance Dogs are not only a living miracle to the disabled child, but also to the entire family. These special dogs are trained to assist the child, and the parents of the child, in a variety of ways.
Types of Assistance
- Tether Training: If your child has a tendency to dart away from you, or if you have trouble holding on to your child for guidance, our dogs can be trained to assist in a form of guidance themselves. Little Angels Autism Assistance Dogs can wear a special “tether” harness that has a leash attached to the belt loop or harness of your child. When the child tries to dart away the dog is trained to resist this pressure, thus keeping your child safe. Not only does this keep the child out of danger, but over time it can also teach the child to stop darting. Many children who struggle against having their hands held by their parents do well with following a dog they are tethered to. Regardless of a tether being used or not, many children find satisfaction in holding onto a special handle attached to the dog’s vest that is designed especially for them. It gives them a sense of confidence and security to feel that they are walking their own dog. This can also keep a child focused on the dog and keep other distractions at bay.
- Tracking: Many parents come to compare their autistic child to Houdini due to the fact that they are able to disarm alarms and open locks within seconds. It seems that no matter how many precautions are taken, that their children still find ways to wander from the house. Little Angels Autism Assistance Dogs can also be trained to track and locate the child by scent. This is a similar task to “Search and Rescue”, only the dog has learned to track down one specific individual. Training such as this is invaluable to keep a child from becoming lost or injured.
- Alert: Some children with autism demonstrate repetitive behaviors such as flailing their arms, hitting various surfaces, stomping their feet, etc.. Parents often say that just a simple touch to their child’s arm will interrupt these behaviors so the child is redirected. Our dogs can be trained to recognize these signs from the child, and paw at their leg to interrupt the behavior.
- Social Bridge: Children with autism have shown enormous improvement with social skills, communication, and even facial recognition when placed with an assistance dog. Our dogs wear a special identifying vest when out in public with their child, which labels the dog as an Autism Assistance Dog. When individuals notice the “ask to pet me” inscribed on the vest, the child is invited to communicate about their dog. In the beginning the descriptions are simple, such as the name of the dog, the color of the dog, etc., but over time discussions become more complex as the child explains how the dog helps him, and what they like about their dog.
- Friendship: Dogs are not judgmental, and they accept us for who we are. They are a constant companion that offers unconditional love and devotion. Above all the other ways an assistance dog can help, this is perhaps the most beneficial of all.
Is an Autism Assistance Dog Right for My Child?
In order to receive an Autism Assistance Dog from Little Angels, you must:
- Have a child with autism to the extent that the disability hinders the aspects of day-to-day life.
- Be willing to be the handler and leader of the dog for your child. Your child cannot handle the dog alone.
- Have a family that loves dogs.
- Have patience to work through problems (even a trained dog is still a dog).
- Have finances to provide your dog with veterinary care and maintenance for the next 10-12 years.
- Be willing to travel to San Diego, California or Bartlett, New Hampshire for handler training with your child and at least one additional adult to provide child care while you are in your lessons.
Handler training is where the parent of the autistic child learns how to work with the dog as a team. This generally takes 14 days, with training every day. This is when the dog learns to respond to the commands of the handler, and when the handler learns how to reinforce the training that the dog has already received. We cover practical, day-to-day life experiences so you will feel confident taking the dog into your care.
After the completion of Handler Training we work together on a series of field tests, which are administered by the trainer. After graduation, you and your dog will be certified as a working team. In order for your dog to be granted legal public access, the dog must be accompanied by your autistic child, and yourself. A certification card will be provided to the handler, as well as a service dog vest and aluminum identification tag for your dog, which labels him or her as a service animal.
We have a lifetime commitment to each recipient and each dog that we place. Once you and your dog have graduated we maintain contact to ensure that your dog’s training and assistance remains in tact, that the dog remains healthy and happy, and that the dog is improving your quality of life.
What are the Steps Involved for Receiving an
Autism Assistance Dog?
- Apply through our Apply for a Service Dog page
- Send in a Personal Referral and Medical Documentation: If your application looks like a good fit we will reach out in 1-3 weeks and ask for these documents to be submitted.
- If accepted, we will contact you to schedule a phone consultation: The consultation is an average of 60 minutes during which we discuss realistic expectations of how a service dog can assist you, and to make sure you are a good fit for one of our dogs.
- The agreement: If we believe one of our service dogs can assist you we will write out a customized agreement and ask you to review your final decision with friends and family.
- Return your agreement with your $500.00 minimum deposit, to be added to our waiting list: The deposit is your sign to us that you are committed to the program.
- Fundraising: Organizations nationwide spend an average of $50,000 on each assistance dog trained. The average service dog graduates with over 600 hours of training, and with that expense also comes veterinary care, boarding, grooming and training supplies. Because of the commitment of all our wonderful volunteers, Little Angels spends $38,000 per dog. This is an expense covered through fundraising. We ask our recipients to be responsible for the first 1/4 of the expense, which is $9,500. This is usually covered through fundraising, and we are happy to help guide you through that process.
- Dog Selection and Specialized Training: Once the funds are met, regardless of how the funds were raised, we move you to the second part of our waiting list where you are a priority for dog placement. This is when we choose a dog from our training program that has the natural propensities to assist in the ways needed for your disability, and we continue any additional specialized training needed specifically for your needs.
- Handler Training: During handler training we work with you, one-on-one and show you how to reinforce the training your dog has already had. Once you and your dog graduate our program we stay in daily contact for the first month, followed by monthly, and bi-yearly consultations for reports on your dog’s ability to continuously provide assistance to you and your child. Handler Training takes place in San Diego, California or Bartlett, New Hampshire.