The reasons for having an autism service dog trained in tethering

Autism Service Dog and child tethered togetherOne of the worst feelings as a parent with a special needs child is the fear of them bolting or running away in public or even from their own home. Statistics show that 50 %  of families that have children with autism and other spectrum disorders say their child went missing for a long enough period of time to cause concern and most often involve law enforcement personnel as a result of safety (read the IAN Research Report: Elopement and Wandering).  58% of parents in the study admit that wandering was ranked among the most stressful Autism Spectrum Disorder behaviors.

The news and social media reports that these children who run off increase their risk of injury, trauma, and in some very sad cases even death. Motivations for bolting or running off include, but are not limited to, the joys of exploring, escaping sensory discomfort, going to find their favorite spot (water, sounds, types of trees), and escaping anxieties.  Although Law Enforcement is expanding their service training across the country to understand and recognize children and adults with autism, the vast majority of the public are not educated. Many on the spectrum cannot verbally explain their name, address, phone number, or even reason why they are in the area.

Tethering your child to a service dog can be the biggest relief for parents, therapist, and family members.  Even if your child breaks from your grasp, knowing they are still attached to the dog is comforting when walking across parking lots, malls, parks, theme parks, carnivals, school events, and concerts.  Most of the parents of children we deliver service dogs to state that their main concern is being able to safely take their child in public.  Because of this, we feel that tethering is one of the most important tasks our autism assistance dogs are trained to do.

What exactly is tethering?

Child Heeling with Autism Service DogWe train our dogs to heel beside the parent while being tethered to the child. The child wears a belt or harness with a tether that clips to their service dog’s vest. At first, most of our children find the experience to be funny and they enjoy the pressure of being able to “ski” behind their new dog. However, after many sessions, the children tend to learn the new routine and they stay fairly close to their dog. If the child does try to wander or bolt, the dog is taught to ground itself and use its weight to help hold the child back while remaining in the heeling position.

Eventually, the end goal would be to transition from the tether to the child being able to handle the dog with the leash. This step helps gain independence as the child gets older and create confidence by being able to handle their own dog.

Throughout all the service dog deliveries I have made, I have seen tethering make the most impact on families’ lives. That buffer between having a hold on your child and your child being gone is priceless. If you have any questions about tethering or other ways an Autism Assistance Dog could help your family, please feel free to call us at 866.200.2207 or send us an email at


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