Autism dogs have all the luck

HarperOne month ago this week I returned home to Chicago with a new Seeing Eye dog. Harper is my third Seeing Eye dog, and going through training for the third time gave me an opportunity to think of some things about service dogs that hadn’t occurred to me before.

The term “service animal” was first used in the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990. the term described an “animal individually trained to provide assistance to a person with a disability.” At the time, Seeing Eye dogs for the blind were the most familiar type of service animal. That was twenty years ago, though. Over the years, service dogs have been trained to perform a variety of tasks, including alerting people with hearing impairments, carrying and picking up things for people with mobility issues, and preventing a child with autism from running away. They are all dogs, and they all help people who have disabilities, but the similarities end there.

Trainers at the Seeing Eye try to teach dogs to control their instincts. It’s virtually impossible to eliminate them completely, though, and unfortunately most instincts are detrimental to good guide work. So it’s up to us as guide dog users to discipline our dogs if they chase, scavenge, sniff, protect … or socialize. My Harper’s weakness is that he likes to socialize too much. This got me to wondering: do autism assistance dogs have to play by the same rules as guide dogs? Can people with autism allow their assistance dogs to be pet by others, for example?

I Contacted Assistance Dogs for Autism for an answer. Jason Purgason (Training Director at Assistance Dogs for Autism) told me they generally encourage people to pet autism assistance dogs. Even when they’re working. “These dogs are often a ‘social draw’ for children who would otherwise not have interactions with strangers,” he explained.

Hope Harper doesn’t get wind of this. He may put in for a career change!


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  1. Dennis Says:

    Good looking dog!

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