Lucy, the Journey of a Service Dog for Autism

Lucy will be coming to my home in a few days to complete her training to become a service dog for a child with Autism. She is an eight month old Double Doodle, which is, two Doodles bred together. What little I know of her is this. She was in a puppy raisers home from seven weeks old until eight months. The breeder offered two puppies for the program Blessings Unleashed Foundation in Glasgow/Bowling Green Kentucky area. She attended outdoor classes with other service dogs in training. The Puppy Raiser Mom is not a dog trainer and to my knowledge has never had a dog. She took Lucy to her place of business where she was socialized with lots of people and taught not to jump on them.

We have an evening set up for her to come to my home. There she will meet my dogs and the family can see where Lucy will spend the rest of her training days. It will be a very difficult transition for both Lucy and the family. They have given her so much time, love and attention. In return Lucy has learned to love and trust them. Like an open adoption, I will keep them updated on her progress and when a family is picked for Lucy to be placed with, they will be able to meet one day during placement training.

I will be teaching Lucy more social skills in public as well as teaching her three tasks for her to help the autistic child she will eventually go to. The usual tasks are, Search and Rescue in case the child should wander off at home or in a store. We teach a “Snuggle”, which the dog applies pressure on the child in order to calm down from a “meltdown”. Teaching the “Nudge” is a task we use to get the child’s attention from their deep concentration. Other useful tasks might be sleeping in the bed with the child to ground them through the night. Many times one parent has to sleep with the child because they are so restless and get up often thru out the evening. We often teach Tethering as a task that is used to prevent the child from wandering from a parent in public locations. The child is either physically tethered to the dog while the parent handles the dog or some children can hold onto a short leash while walking with the parent and service dog.

Lucy is the sixth service dog for autism I have trained. What I have learned is how each child is so different. Some children have more physical skills or social behavior. I have learned to work with the parent and dog, who then works with the child and dog. I have learned It truly is a blessing for me to be able to use my dog training skills for Blessings Unleashed. I look forward to telling you of my successes and failures with Lucy in her training to become an Autism Service Dog.

Update:

The family arrived with Lucy tonight. The whole gang came husband, sons and even a girlfriend. I’m sure they needed closure, making sure I would be a kind trainer for her and to see where she would be living. I have the Puppy Raiser Mom let her go to explore the house while we sit and I gather information from them. I go over a list of places and people to see what they have exposed her to. I ask about her commands so that I can speak to Lucy with the words they have used for eight months. What hand signals did they use for “sit”, “down” and “come” to one of them? How did they play with Lucy? What did they feed her and how much? I have a great backyard, fenced, where she can intertwine with nature and explore, as dogs do. I show them her sleeping arrangements, crated in my bedroom with the humans and the other dogs. She will not be isolated from us unless I have places to go where she really shouldn’t go, such as my dog training lessons. Then she will be created and learn to be separate from me as well as learning to be quiet and patient.

Next, we have to introduce Lucy to my two dogs. They are both over ten years old and really don’t like to play anymore. I bring out Noble first on a leash while Lucy’s mom holds her leash. We let Lucy wander and sniff and then have Noble follow. When Lucy wants to sniff him, I feed him treats and then it is his turn to sniff her. I watch for both dogs to be relaxed and not so curious about each other. I then hand off Noble to a family member to bring Scout out. Scout is almost completely blind and has a hard time with bumping into things and being less tolerant of active dogs. I let him sniff Lucy while we feed her treats. Then the roles reverse with me feeding Scout as Lucy sniffs. The meet and greet goes well and I will continue to manage my dogs with leashes until Lucy is calm.

The family is ready to relinquish Lucy to my care but tears are beginning to appear in the Moms eyes. She has devoted so much to Lucy and she is experiencing the loss as if a child is going off to college. I feel the pain she has as she quickly departs, trying not to look back. I hold Lucy’s leash feeling her pull to go with her family. I let her watch as they load into their car, then I slowly close the door and begin her new chapter as a service dog in training.

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