National Guide Dog Month – Autism Service Dogs

September is National Guide Dog Month. I’m about five days behind, but since it seems to be mainly celebrated in the U.S., I thought my tardiness was acceptable.

Since this blog has been a little lacking in interesting and factual information, I thought I’d post some service dog related entries for the next25 days.

I began
my blogging journey during March of 2008, when we started fostering, Aiden,
for Autism Dog Services.

Here’s a picture of Aiden that was taken in Toronto in June of 2008.

Therefore, I think I will start my National Guide Dog Month entries, with a post on autism service dogs.

Autism service dogs perform a wide variety of tasks, such as help curb unwanted behaviours, encourage interaction with others, and provide independence. Unlike traditional service programs though, such as the ones which train guide dogs, there is a little less consistency surrounding the training of these special canines.

Some of the skills which they have been known to perform are:

• Act as an anchor to keep children from bolting into traffic;
• Alert their child’s guardian to harmful behaviour (such as an attempt to escape);
• Search for their child in the event of a successful escape;
• Help their child calm down and/or handle highly stimulating environments; and
• Provide a bridge for social interactions.

Even though there are many benefits to having an autism service dog, it is important to look at how a dog’s presence might change the family dynamics. Not every child will find a dog comforting. And not every family will find a service dog helpful. Some families will start the process of attaining a service dog, only to find out that the added responsibilities and public pressures are too much. They may also find that their child is disinterested in the dog and that the dog’s desire to be nearby is too overwhelming.

In this article from February of 2003, you will read about two boys (Scotty and Riley), who are learning about how different life can be with their autism service dogs.

In this second article, you will read about Aiden’s sister Amber, and the process Katie’s family went through to find out whether a dog was right for her.

Here’s a picture of Amber with her brother Aiden, that was taken in October of 2008 at the St. Jacob’s Market.

Currently, there are only four programs in Canada which provide autism service dogs.

National Service Dogs;
Autism Dog Services;
Dogs with Wings, and more recently,
The Lions Foundation of Canada Dog Guides.

With the seemingly endless requests for these special canines, I’m very certain that we will soon see more programs offering autism service dogs, and that it may become just as common to see one as it is to see guide dogs who assist the blind and visually impaired.

Come back tomorrow to learn more about our special canine helpers.

(Just a closing note, I got most of my information through a basic Google search, but also took some points from an article inspired by the book “Animal-Assisted Interventions For Individuals With Autism” by Merope Pavlides)

Canine Memory

So, I know I just posted one yesterday, but after getting a comment on Facebook from Aiden’s boy’s mom, I began thinking the one memory I’d love to forget, from we were fostering him – please don’t choke on your coffee Joanne!

Aiden – The Pulling Machine

Aiden was one of the smartest puppies I’d ever encountered. He seemed to come knowing he had to relieve outside and almost had the “sit” command down within 24 hours of arriving. It took us very little effort to teach him the rest of his basic commands and by the time he was four months, he already knew several tricks and would do them for anyone who asked. Well there was one behavior we were unable to teach him and it actually almost got him washed from the program. No matter how much we worked with him, Aiden just couldn’t understand the concept of heeling.

When he was about eight months of age we were in the mall and he had been overly distracted so I decided it was time to break out the Halti. I got him to sit and then let him sniff it before putting it on. It worked right away. Aiden and I were no longer struggling against one another and he was calmly walking at my side. I was so impressed and thought we had found the cure for the constant sore shoulders we were experiencing. Well, we turned a corner and there, standing in the distance was Amber (his sister) and her foster mom. The second Aiden saw her, he began to pull towards them and I pulled back, first mistake, so he pulled harder. Well, being the dumb ass I am, I did a quick flick of my wrist, trying to get his attention. Instead of accomplishing what I had hoped, the flick caused the Halti to come off his face (he had turned his head) which then caused the leash to follow through with the backward motion of my arm. Well, the Halti, still attached to the leash, flew over my shoulder and just narrowly missed hitting a woman in the face who had been walking by at that exact moment. I didn’t know what to say, and Huib was horrified! Aiden took this moment of confusion to take off running down the hall, where he was caught by Amber’s foster mom. My second mistake of the day, as I’m sure you’ve already figured out, was forgetting to clip the leash to both the collar and Halti. From that day on, we never used the Halti again with Aiden and just worked on trying to convince him not to dislocate our shoulders.

Here’s a picture of the siblings from our trip to St. Jacob’s Market in October of 2008.

I’m sure there are other duh moments from my puppy raising days, but you’ll have to wait, because at the moment I can’t think of another.

“turn your wounds into wisdom.” – Oprah Winfrey

A Chaotic Weekend

Our weekend began with a trip to Amber’s place for a puppy play date. Cessna and Aiden loved the time they got to run and play and chase the Frisbee around the field near Amber’s house. Amber had a good time romping around with Aiden and they tired each other out quite nicely. Gunner, our visitor for the weekend, didn’t have as much fun on the play date because he was stuck on a long leash because we weren’t sure about his recall. Gunner is a 105lbs (slightly overweight) male chocolate Labrador. He was donated to the Autism Dog Services program and is currently under assessment, but being already 14 months old and not overly obedient things are a little more challenging. I wish the director of training luck in the training process, if he decides to accept the challenge.

On Saturday we held a birthday party for our golden, Aspen, and our little 6 month old foster, Aiden. We had a total of 8 dogs in our 2-bedroom condo apartment, it was nuts! Aspen and Aiden had a wonderful party and Aspen was thoroughly spoiled by her friend Thor (10 year old 115lbs golden) and his mom Sharon. She got: a package of snausages, a package of dentasticks, and a bone that has minty flavoured stuff in it from them; fresh beef bones from her friend Harley (the balcony jumper) and his mom Darlene; a squeaky beaver from her friend Jetta and her mom Jess and then a knuckle bone from us in addition to her pink teddy and pool she already got. Aiden was also spoiled with a nylabone ring and a squeaky/crinkly stuffed turtle from us and a Frisbee from his friend Jetta and her mom Jess. In addition to having all of the dogs come over for the party we also made cake for them all to share (even though I am sure Aspen would have loved to have it all to herself). The cake was half rice and half coconut flour with peanut butter mixed into the batter and then some as icing as well. They all enjoyed it thoroughly!

Later on though Cessna began to develop hives and become quite itchy. We noticed the problem when she was running around like a mad dog and rubbing her paws on the carpet…not normal for her at all, even though she is quite an energetic girl! She was covered in red lumps and even her face, ears and legs were swollen. We gave her 2 Benedryl, an Aspirin and a fresh marrow bone to keep her mind off her discomfort. About an hour or so later the swelling and hives began to go down and happily this morning all the redness had disappeared as well. We are guessing she had an allergic reaction to the coconut flour or peanut butter, she has had peanut butter before but only in small doses since the first time she had too much and got the runs for a couple of days. I think we’ll avoid both because we aren’t sure if her sensitivity to the peanut butter has gotten worse or if it was just the coconut flour…better to be safe than sorry. I’m not sure why I keep getting blessed with these dogs with strange problems, but then I guess someone thinks I can handle it.

Today has been a little less eventful, but still tiring. Gunner has a great deal of energy, but being so large can’t be just left to his own desires. I never thought all four of our dogs could be nervous around one dog at the same time. Poor Aiden almost climbed our bedroom door trying to get in and get away from him. And Phoenix got slammed around the living room like a ball in one of those old arcade games. Only one and a half more days before his trainer returns…he really isn’t a bad dog, but he just doesn’t understand his size and isn’t used to being cooped up in a house all day. Our cat learned that he doesn’t understand his size when he had her pinned between his paws, not wanting to hurt her, but he’s 105lbs and she is only 13lbs maybe…luckily she’s a good sport about it all.

Updates & Stuff

I thought I’d first begin this entry by updating everyone on how Teal and Amber are doing at their new homes, then updating everyone on how Lynette is doing at GDB. Teal looks to be doing wonderfully with his foster mom. I have not yet had a chance to get together with her or see her on an outing, but I am sure that soon enough we will cross paths again. Amber has now been with her foster mom for almost 3 weeks and also looks to be improving nicely. We have run into them a couple of times and Amber still seems to have a huge attraction to Aiden, but at least now she is settling down quicker and not stressing when she can’t be near him. Amber seems to be learning things quickly, she rides on the bus every day without any issues and attends school with her foster mom, settling down for a nap once they get into the classroom. The only real concern right now is her fear of traffic. I think with time though she will get through this fear…I guess living in a small village she didn’t encounter much traffic in the first few months. I will post some new pictures of both Teal and Amber once I get some from their foster moms. We will be seeing Amber again on Monday and this will be the first real time her and Aiden will be working side by side…hopefully it will go well.

Lynette has now been at GDB for almost 2 weeks, just one more week to go and she will be on a plane back to Toronto. She was placed with a fairly energetic and challenging female yellow lab at first, but after just a few days the dog began to show a lack of confidence, so Lynette decided that a dog change was necessary. She now has a tiny female black lab who works extremely well, but is also playful and challenging at times. If you are interested in seeing more about how she is doing and learning a little about her former guide, you can visit her blog at http://lynessence.typepad.com/.

Last weekend was a pretty busy one. On Friday we went to a friend’s graduation barbecue and then on Saturday we attended a Labrador retriever breeder show. If that wasn’t enough then Sunday we spent the entire day in Toronto, in the morning we attended the Walk for Autism at Nathan Philips Square and then in the afternoon we walked around Woofstock. The barbecue was fun, we spent about 3 hours there chatting with my friend and listening to stories her friends told about random things. Aiden and Cessna both came with us, Aiden was pretty interested in Jess’s friend’s guide named Cotton. Cotton is a bernese lab cross so is quite large and well energetic to add to it all. Aiden tried to play with Cotton for a while, but Cotton began to be a little too rough with him so we stopped the games. Cotton is over 85lbs and Aiden was 49lbs (now 54lbs!) at that point so we worried about having an Aiden pancake if Cotton were to actually sit on him, which he was trying to do. The lab breeder show was also pretty interesting, we were helping out at the Autism Dog Services booth, but also got a chance to walk around and see the different kennel’s booths and food vendors. Purina was giving out the more interesting stuff, they gave us a bag and told us to take as many treats as we wanted, they weren’t packages, but out loose for people to let their dogs test.

Sunday was very tiring, but fun and a great experience for both Cessna and Aiden. At the walk I stayed with Cessna at the booth, I didn’t want her to get too overheated – it was over 30 degrees celsius out and she is a black lab. At the booth I was with another foster mom and we took turns answering questions about the organization. It is amazing how many people look at the name of the organization and assume we work with autistic dogs…well I really do hope not, but then again are there autistic dogs out there? Another interesting, but strange question we were asked was if the dogs bite…sir I really do hope not, but if they do of course they wouldn’t continue in the program. Since we didn’t have any ADS fosters at the booth during the walk, we decided to put a training coat onto Cessna, people really didn’t notice the difference and to be honest I think she was a pretty good mascot for the organization. People and kids came up asking to pet her and she just laid there sun bathing…Cessna you are a black lab, how can you find sun bathing fun? Some parents told me that Cessna was such a good girl because normally their kids were afraid of dogs, but for some reason were attracted to her. One child asked to give her a treat and well she is the one dog of mine that I completely trust to allow a child to give her something. After the walk was over we headed over to the Eatons Centre to cool down and grab some lunch. At Woofstock there were tons of people and tons of dogs…why do all small dogs seem to have an issue with dogs that are larger than them? While walking through the crowds poor Aiden was snarled at and even snapped at by all sorts of smaller dogs…another question, why do people insist on allowing their dogs to walk on flexi leashes in crowded areas? I would think common sense would tell people to use a shorter leash in such places, but then again not everyone seems to understand common sense. Once we finished walking through all of the exhibits we began our trip back to the car. Aiden was so exhausted, he wanted to stay on the subway train rather than get off and go home. I thought at one point we were going to have to carry him.

This week has been off and on busy as well. Huib has been working a lot and my sister and her cat moved in for the year on Monday. I attended a presentation on Tuesday night at the Legion with Cessna…it was a presentation on K-9 Helpers so it was useful information. On Wednesday I officially began my volunteering with the ABI program at our local long-term care home. It was nice getting to know all of the participants and staff. Cessna slept the entire 2 hours we were there, she is not a morning dog so waking up at 7:30am wasn’t her idea of fun. Today I did my second day of working with K-9 Helpers, I think I am going to really enjoy this job. I have been assigned many different tasks and all seem to have elements that will challenge me both skill wise and comfort wise. I will continue to write updates as time progresses. Right now my main task is to learn all I can about the organization, so not currently a real challenge, but I will make sure I put all my effort into this job because it’s not often that such a wonderful opportunity is set before someone.

“Opportunity may knock only once, but temptation leans on the doorbell.”

A Weekend of Change & Fun

Saturday was a pretty lazy day, but Sunday was a little more exciting. A friend’s sister had begun to e-mail me regarding the possibility of fostering Amber. She has never fostered before so mainly wanted to know her responsibilities and whether she was able to take Amber everywhere with her. After a few e-mails back and forth she talked with her parents and they were all for her fostering. Meghan attends the University of Guelph so Amber will get tons of time in classes, as well as, tons of time to be a dog since the student life is not always overly demanding. Sunday afternoon we packed up Amber along with all of her things and headed off to Meghan’s place.

When we first arrived Meghan and her roommate were not home, but a short time after we went back to the car they arrived with bags full of things for Amber. She got her new bowls, a leash, and some toys…what a spoiled little girl! Amber was quite excited to meet Meghan and they seemed to fall in love instantly. Amber almost immediately began to make herself at home, wandering the house and checking out Meghan’s roomate’s dog Jack. After going over some things, we turned to leave, Amber wasn’t so sure about this and ran out the door. We got her back in without too much difficulty and said our good-byes. Meghan’s sister called me that evening to let me know how happy Meghan seemed. She said that she thinks I might have made her year . As I hear more I will update everyone on Amber’s progress.

After leaving we headed out to the University to begin planning our walk route. This coming Sunday morning will be Guelph’s 2nd Annual Purina Walk for Dog Guides so I want to make it as perfect as possible. This year the walk could not take place at the park we had done it at last year because some booking issues had occurred and by the time we had put our request in the space was gone. The University’s V.P. Student Affairs came to our rescue though, offering to pay for the rental fees if we wanted to use their Arboretum Centre. The facility is beautiful, the only problem is no dogs are allowed inside except for working ones and I assume fosters as well. Having no real other option we decided on taking up her offer and began the process of planning the day. The day will begin with a catered sort of breakfast provided by the University’s food services department. Then the walk will commence and afterward there will be raffles and fun dog contests.

In planning the route we decided to first walk down the main driveway and head onto main campus. We walked through various areas of the campus stopping at one spot to take some pictures of Cessna and I. Cessna found the campus to be quite interesting with all the squirrels running about and the fields where she could run. I guess she hasn’t been there enough to get over the excitement yet. Phoenix lived and worked with me on this campus for five years so the novelty of it all sort of wore off after the first year there. After about an hour and a half we were done planning the route. This year the walk will be about an hour and fifteen minutes of walking, a little longer than it is supposed to be, but the walk is pretty scenic in spots so I am sure the community members coming out will enjoy it. I think as a preliminary precaution though we might figure out where the halfway point would be and have volunteers let the walkers know that if they turn around there then once they reach the centre again they will have done half the walk. I don’t want people getting too tired or warm not having the chance to take a shortcut. The route follows the main driveway from the Arboretum Centre and then goes through campus by their new Science Complex and then goes along Gordon Street to College where they will turn and walk by War Memorial Hall (a beautiful building) and by some of the residences such as McDonald Hall, Mills Hall, and Johnston Hall. Once they reach Wineguard Walk they will turn and go past the main cafeteria (Creelman Hall) and then pass by the library and some other older buildings. They will then turn down towards the Athletic Centre and head back towards the Arboretum Centre this time walking along some of the paths rather than the main driveway. I am looking forward to all of this being done, it has been a stressful process, but hopefully it will be all worth it in the end.

Today wasn’t too eventful, we only went out to the school yard near our place to play some fetch. The weather has become quite warm and humid and Aiden is having some trouble adjusting once again.

“Challenges are what makes life interesting; overcoming them is what makes life meaningful.”
– Joshua J. Marine

A Week Has Passed

It has now been over a week since we picked up Aiden’s siblings, Amber and Teal. Teal seems to be doing well with his foster mom in Leamington. Last I heard she was slowly working on the basic obedience needs of ADS and on his house training. Like Amber, Teal has still not completely learned the importance of not going wherever desired, but telling us they need to go. Teal is not the only dog in the house, his foster mom has a large male golden named Denver. When Teal first arrived a the house he was a little intimidated by Denver, but not long after they were sleeping together while their mom worked on the computer.

Amber is still with us, she has not yet found that perfect home for her. I am sure she will soon enough, she is a real sweet girl, just a little stubborn. Her and I seem to clash every day, she doesn’t like to be forced to do something, so it breaks my heart when she looks up at me as if to say “you are the most terrible person.” I guess her and I were just not meant to be together.

This week has been a week of new experiences for Amber, she has learned lots and seen tons. Last Sunday we went on a puppy outing to Waterloo Park. The dogs enjoyed seeing all of the different animals in their petting zoo. The puppies behaved pretty wel, but Cessna was a complete embarrassment! She barked at this and tried to pull my arm off to see that. She grew up on a farm so her prey drive is quite high, but usually in such situations I don’t use her in harness and I remember to bring her halti or newtrix collar (www.newtrix.ca). Once we had walked around the park a while we decided to allow the dogs to run in one of the fields. Cessna had a great time playing fetch with Boomer, one of the other ADS fosters. Boomer is a bit bigger than Cessna, but still they seemed to be able to keep up with one another. Aiden and Amber ran a bit, but after a while got pretty tired so stayed around us waiting for the older dogs to be done their game. After the run we went for a walk along King Street. Amber didn’t seem to be phased by most of the things around her, but she did not enjoy having to go do stairs a second time without Aiden. I had decided that there was no point in me and Cessna joining on the second walk up, since she knows her stairs and well Aiden does too so we stayed at the bottom while Huib worked with Amber and Karen with Boomer.

We didn’t do too much interesting over the next few days, just the regular walks and stuff in our neighbourhood. Amber was not a huge fan of a bus rushing by while she was on that side of the sidewalk. She seems better now though. Thursday we took Cessna and the pups to visit Velma and Bob, Cessna’s foster family. Cessna was so excited to see them and immediately ran to her bath tub to splash around. Velma and Bob have an old claw foot bath tub at the side of their house for the dogs to play in. Aiden and Amber joined in on the splashing around in the tub and then ran circles in the yard trying to catch up with Cess. After some energy was burnt we headed out on a walk through the bush, the pups did really well with their recall so we allowed them to run up ahead with Cessna. Velma and Bob have a new pet dog anemd Jasmine. Jasmine wasn’t too big a fan of the energy the pups had so stayed out of their way, but later on when Bob took just Cessna for another walk, Jasmine joined and was at Cessna constantly, trying to get her to play. After an exhausting eight hours we piled the dogs back into the car and headed home.

Despite the lack of energy in the house, we decided to go on another puppy outing yesterday evening. We joined Karen and Boomer at Victoria Park. This time I remembered to bring Cessna’s newtrix collar and didn’t put her into harness, this way at least she couldn’t be identified as a dog guide. All the dogs seemed to enjoy the evening walk and behaved quite well. Cessna was still overly pully and interested in the swans and ducks in the water around the park…what am I going to do with you girl? Boomer is pretty attached to his foster mom, so she passed him to Huib during some of the walk in the hopes that he might get used to walking okay with another person while she was around. Amber and Aiden walked well, only getting excited to see the other dogs passing by, but I think the energy radiating off Cessna didn’t help the situation either. After a while of walking through the park we decided to walk around downtown Kitchener. Amber was okay not being with Aiden during most of the outing, but once he was no longer in sight she began to panic. Once the panic had set in she didn’t really settle until we got back into the car and she was able to snuggle up beside him. Amber sadly seems to have an unhealthy attachment to Aiden so I feel she will need to go to a new home sooner than later, because I fear with time it will only get worse.

Puppy Pandimonium

So yesterday we packed up our dogs and headed off on a trip to Parry Sound. We dropped Cessna, Phoenix, and Aspen all off to stay with a friend of mine’s sister since the trip would end with chaos if we didn’t find someone to watch them. Aiden stayed with us because we were heading to visit his breeder and pick up his two siblings, Amber and Teal. The drive was beautiful and the traffic was light. After a three hour trip we arrived at our destination.


Aiden was quite interested in this place and when a lovely woman (his breeder) came out to greet us he was so excited. I am not sure if he remembered her or the place or if it was just her excitement wearing off on him, but there was tons of jumping around and kisses. He is a very affectionate boy and loves to give his kisses, something we will need to work on in the future since not everyone enjoys to be licked all over. Aiden’s mom, Sadie, and Nutella the older dog of the house were in a fenced in area and making tons of noise, not sure what all the excitement was about and who these strange people were at their home. Sadie is a 2 ½ year old black lab. She is slightly tall for a typical female lab and has quite large paws…guess that’s where Aiden gets his feet from. She has a gorgeous thick, shiny coat with tons of waves. Once Sadie and Nutella went into the house, there was silence for a bit. We chatted some and Aiden was looked over by Catherine in awe, she was quite pleased at how well he’s begun to develop and quite happy with his disposition.

After a bit she decided it was time to bring out Amber and Teal for a visit. They have become quite good at escaping the enclosure she had made for them so before retrieving them from the house she repaired the temporary fencing. Amber and Teal came out full of wiggles and energy, I think they must feed off one another because the energy in the yard was insanely high. Amber is not much smaller than Aiden, maybe a bit shorter, but Teal is shorter and more of a stalkier build. Aiden and Amber could be easily mistaken as the same dog, but in reality Amber is slightly darker in colour. Teal on the other hand is lighter than them both and I think also has darker eyes. Both are sweet in their own ways though.

After a bit of puppy playtime Catherine went in to the house to prepare us some lunch. Teal is a mommy’s boy and followed her everywhere. Amber and Aiden would follow at first, but after a few minutes would return, but Amber often went back in to see what was happening. Amber and Teal are like twins, they do everything together and when apart aren’t the happiest. Catherine has to feed them together and crate them together or she will get nothing done. They enjoyed ganging up on Aiden, but he was a good sport and just took it all in stride. When the two of them were playing together or digging a hole, he’d just sit by me and watch. Catherine said he was always the puppy who sat back and observed the rest, that is why she had originally called him Copper.

Once lunch was over, we had a nice chat over coffee while the puppies all played together. Aiden did really well at lunch, just laid by my feet under the table while Amber and Teal walked here and there. I guess all the socializing and obedience work and public trips have really helped him to mature. Even though him, Amber and Teal are all the same age, he just seems so much more mature…way to go buddy!

Just before we left a couple came over to introduce us to Brody, Aiden’s biggest brother, and to see how Aiden looks now that he has grown. Brody is a VERY big boy, weighing in at 51lbs already. His legs are like tree stumps and he already looks like he could be full grown. We all chatted a bit whie the puppies played and Amber got in her last rumble with Brody before we all said good-bye. It was amazing how fast time went, we had arrived around 2:30pm and then all of a sudden it was 6:00pm. We packed everyone up in the car and set out on the 3 ½ hour drive back home. Amber seemed to settle down after a bit, but Teal had a harder time with everything. We had put him into our doggie seat belt before leaving because he was jumping all over the car and that just wasn’t safe. Amber sat by my feet in the front for a while, but once we got onto the 401 I brought Aiden up to sit with me and allowed Amber to go into the back where she quickly fell asleep. About 45 minutes or so from home I took Teal out of the seat belt and he seemed to settle in a bit better. At some point during the drive between Parry Sound and Barrie he had thrown up, guess the stress was too much for his little belly.

Once we were back in Guelph, I put Aiden into the back and brought Teal and Amber to sit by my feet so that my other 3 dogs could get in. We all were exhausted by the time we got in. Aiden pretty much curled up and went to sleep along with my other 3. Amber and Teal refused to go out for relief so were put to bed right away. They barked for a long time, but after some frustration and raised voices they got the point and were quiet most of the night. We moved our crate into the spare bedroom for the night and allowed Aiden to roam free in our bedroom. He was very good about this arrangement, curling up on one of the dog beds in our room and falling asleep right away. It wasn’t him who woke me up at 6:00am, but Amber telling me it was time to take them out.

This afternoon we took Teal to meet his new foster family, I am interested to find out how he did without Amber and will update you all if I learn anything. Amber does not yet have a home, but will spend at least the weekend with us. I think it will do her some good to be around older dogs who won’t allow her to dominate them. I will let you all know how her first night alone goes.