Dogs and Autism: Why We Got A Dog, and the Long Weekend

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There have been a lot of reports on service dogs and children with Autism.  Most, like this article on KSL have been positive, resulting in children with autism coming out of their shell more.  The reason is the less complexity in the dog's social acceptance of people, and therefore the more likely the child will be willing to interact (no longer afraid of doing the "wrong thing"). 

So, my wife and I had talked about getting a dog.  This was quite the debate, as both my wife and I have very different ideas of what makes a good dog, complicated by the fact that we were not sure how our son would interact with a dog.

Then my brother-in-law and his family got a dog, a little lab/blue heeler mix named Scooby.  He is a young dog (3 months), but will eventually grow up into quite a big dog.  Well, we let our son interact with him, and he had a blast.  He was playing, he was getting down to his level, and he was laughing.  It was an awesome sight, and we knew we needed a dog. 

So, we started checking out the shelters.  There were some nice looking dogs, but there were some criteria that we both agreed on:  No fighting dogs (pit bulls, Staffordshire terriers, etc.), because we didn't know what environment they were coming from.  That, and not too long ago we had a pit bull terrorize our neighborhood.  We also wanted a smaller dog, one young enough that our cat could beat into submission.  The big deterrent was the price of adoption, which we did not have at the time. 

So, we thought, maybe in a couple of months we would be in a position to get a dog.  Then my wife and I started looking in the Classifieds on, and found four potential dogs: a lab/border collie mix, a blue tick hound, a blue heeler/lab mix, and a border collie/corgi mix.  The border collie/corgi mix was closer to us, and I thought that he may have been a smaller dog because of his corgi blood, so we checked on him first. 

When we got there, he ended up being big, much bigger than I thought.  He has lines similar to a scottish deerhound, with the same face (from the corgi), and a very long body (from the corgi).  But he also has the long legs and primary coloring from his border collie blood.  So he is a large dog, and that made me think. 

But, as we talked about the dog, our youngest started walking around in the previous owner's house, and when I called my son's name to get him to come back, the dog started to "herd" him back to the family.  I was convinced this was the kind of dog we needed, and after a dubious look from my wife (our oldest with Autism was a little apprehensive of his size as well), we loaded up the dog's crate, leash, and the dog, into our car and headed home. 

That day was very busy, with one very excited dog who didn't want to spend any time in his kennel, was very social, and loved to run with me and the boys.  In fact, he probably had far more attention than he had before.  Not because the family was in any way neglectful of him before, but because my oldest with Autism was by his side almost all day.  That relieved any fears my wife and I had about the dog and our kids, and we started to settle down with him. 

We took him for two walks that day, just to get the energy out of him, and had a blast.  Then, that night, we decided we would try to have him shut up in his crate, as he was supposed to be kennel trained.  He got in, but didn't like being in the kennel, and wanted to be out with the family.  He started to whine, keeping everyone awake.  I went out and slept in the same room, just so I could keep him quiet.  Not a good start, I could tell.

The next day, Sunday, went really well.  He behaved while we were at church, and was very excited when we came back.  We took him for another long walk, and he loved it.  This time we went with the whole family, and everyone was quite happily tired after that morning.  So we settled down for the night.  This time I had the dog out of his crate (he doesn't like it, probably because it's too short for his length), and he slept in the boy's room, though I had to be in there with them.  This isn't too bad, as children with Autism generally don't sleep well and try to climb in with their parents, so my son slept really well. 

Last night was perhaps the best night.  After moving rooms around, this time the dog, Toby, was quite happy to sleep with the boys.  He would have been there all night, had the boys not woken up in the middle of the night, thinking it was time to play.  So again, I spent time with my boys, but at least Toby is getting settled. 

He is a very good dog, in that he sits almost every time on command (we are working on that), he plays fetch, and most importantly, if I tell him to get one of the boys, he will run over to them, then along side them, nudging them in the right direction.  He will also stick with them, keeping an eye on them when in the back yard or on the playground.  We are definitely glad we have him.  We just need to work out his position with the cat.