For parents looking to obtain a service dog for their child, this has to be the most asked question. The answer, most of the time, is yes! Our parents often go through a lengthy process to obtain a service dog. First, they must complete the service dog application process, then they must gather the money to pay for the service dog, next they must help their child wait patiently, and finally they are able to set up the delivery for the new service dog. Many of our parents are hopeful that a service dog for their child will help them progress socially and independently. We hope so, too! How will the child bond with their new service dog? Sometimes it’s instantaneous, but most of the time it can take a little work from the entire family, depending on the child, their needs, and the interaction with the service dog.
Children on the spectrum often struggle to fit in socially, and struggle to engage in appropriate conversations and interactions with their peers. The ability to express emotion to animals is often easier, but it does not mean they will show their enthusiasm like we think they should. We have to remember (especially with a non-verbal child) that there is communication occurring between the child and the service dog that we cannot see or understand. We teach our police and military dog handlers all the time that if you are frustrated or having a bad day that the energy goes right down the leash to your dog. Handlers may find the dog will not work for them as well or at all when the handler’s feel this way. If dogs can pick up on our negative energy, a service dog can certainly understand unspoken love and positive energy from a child.
The concern we hear the most is that, “the service dog follows me around more than my child; I would really like for the service dog to follow my child!” This is where the family must stay structured and disciplined and follow tips from our trainers as often as possible. This situation often forms when many positive things for the service dog come from the mom or dad instead of the child. For example: As busy moms do, they feed the dog, walk the dog, give the dog treats and bones, buy the toys, and the child may only walk the service dog in public. In this situation, nine out of the ten possible positive situations are coming from mom, so it is natural the service dog prefers her company to the child. We can help you through this, but you must be patient and willing to work! The bond between the child and the service dog can occur within days or it may take several months (especially with a child who already struggles to express their feelings).
A great example of nonverbal bonding came from a child who loved Home Depot more than any other place. He was fascinated with numbers and loved to look at all the prices of the lawn mowers in the home and garden section. If this child had a good week, his reward was to go to Home Depot on Saturday. The downside with the reward meant that the parents could not get out of the store in less than three hours! We placed a service dog with this child and home depot trips went from taking three hours to taking only 30 minutes with the help of a furry friend. While this child is unable to communicate verbally, we attribute this success for the family to an unspoken bond between the child and his service dog. This speaks of a sense of teamwork we may never understand.
My advice to our families is to be positive, be patient, and stick to the basics our trainers lay out for you! If you follow their advice, your child will bond with his or her service dog. We guarantee it.
For more information about how our Autism Service Dog program can help your child, please contact us at 866.200.2207, or email at firstname.lastname@example.org.