Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Icing on the Cake

By: Tamara Wood

This blog is long overdue! So sorry that I haven’t updated in a while. As many of you know we have been a bit busier than usual lately. Our family and also my mom and two of our friends all flew to Ohio for two weeks to train with our son’s autism service dog, Haas! We have been home since March 30th and have been doing upkeep on Haas’ training and acclimating to the new addition to our family.


We first found out about autism service dogs when I was looking into Hippotherapy for Alex since he has a love for animals. In the process of frantically searching to find out everything I could about autism service dogs and if they could actually be helpful I ran across 4 Paws for Ability located in Xenia, OH. After reading all of the stories of other families that had gotten a service dog for their child I was sold. There are lots of other agencies that train service dogs, but 4 Paws was the only one that I found that would train a 3 person team where an adult is the “handler” instead of the person with the disability. I’m sure you can see the problem with a 6 year old with severe autism and no concepts of danger or responsibility would have issues with that. Therefore they do not have an age limit for how old the disabled child has to be and Karen Shirk, the owner, never turns anyone down with a disability. Besides that, 4 Paws is the only agency that will allow you to help fundraise for them to speed up the process. All of the other organizations, if I could have even used them, had a waiting list of at least 2-5 years. We decided we needed his service dog sooner rather than later for Alex’s safety so I called 4 Paws, spoke to Karen, and started the process of raising $13,000 for 4 Paws for Ability.

Haas has been trained specifically for Alex in that he does tethering, tracking, behavior interruption, and deep pressure. Now when we go out I can just tether Alex to Haas and not have to worry about him running off. This has been a very big issue for us as Alex always wants to run and does not like us holding his hand or having a leash attached to him directly to an adult. He would become self abusive and abusive to whoever he was attached to. However, being attached to Haas allows him several feet of space between him and the adult (usually me). In Alex’s world a few feet is FREEDOM!! We got to make trips to Wal-Mart, Lowe’s, and Pet Smart all in the course of just a few hours with no near escapes and overall happier kiddos. Alex of course still had meltdowns because he hates to shop…stopping and going backward are no-no’s.  And we still need to work out the kinks of not taking up the whole aisle with our entourage since Hunter likes to “walk Haas” as well. J 


Haas is trained for tracking just in case Alex does get away when he isn’t tethered to him. This is a huge balm to my worries about him getting lost and not even trying to come home and something happening to him. Not understanding all of the dangers out there makes it even more of a necessity that he be found as soon as possible…cars, large bodies of water, heights, etc… Another good thing about the tracking is that Haas has learned from our practice tracks that he always gets great praise, treats, and a tennis ball (he is crazy about tennis balls!) at the end of every track so it is very rewarding for him and therefore it is his favorite “game”. Since every time we have done a track he always sees Alex walking off he has made the connection that every time that kid walks off I get lots of praise and now he starts whining when he sees Alex walking off, which would be very beneficial to actually avoid having to track Alex J.

 With the behavior interruption and deep pressure Haas was trained to do “kisses” on command as Alex likes these, he will do a “lap” where he lays his head on his lap, “over” where he basically lies on top of Alex when lying down, and “nuzzle” when Alex is pinching himself. This has already been helpful several times. If I can see that Alex is starting to get overwhelmed I just have Haas give kisses on Alex’s hand and this distracts him a bit. If he is more into the meltdown I try to get Haas lying on him. This is more difficult because of Alex than Haas. Once Alex is upset he doesn’t want to be touched and he is still having to learn what it is we are trying to do for him. But, today Haas shortened a meltdown significantly. After only a few minutes Alex was laughing and petting Haas.


Now that we are home, we are also working on getting Haas to alert us by barking when Alex gets out of bed at night (and by default every other time he gets out of bed, even if he is playing…lol), when he climbs on the kitchen counter which he loves to do, and also if he climbs over the back fence.

Having a service dog is HARD WORK! All of the time and effort on top of regular daily life is very, very tiring. Not to mention the fundraising the $13,000 and then the $10,000 on top of that to actually get to Ohio for two weeks. Thankfully our God is awesome and blessed us with an influx of donations to get us there. Those two weeks were both awesome and frustrating…lol.

We were the ones who were actually being trained for those two weeks. Haas had already been trained and we just had to let him know that he had to listen to us. Haas is very hardheaded.  If he doesn’t have on his service dog vest or his gentle leader he doesn’t want to work for you…lol.  It was day after day of learning new commands and implementing them not only while in “class”, but also when we got back to the hotel. We basically couldn’t let him out of our sight because we needed to ensure that he was keeping his “manners” even though we weren’t in public. They are basically like kids…you give them an inch and they take a mile! It has been even more challenging here at home as I said since we have other things we need to get done during the day and not just doing training. He is only 17 months old and therefore still a puppy at heart and I have had to purposefully leave out socks, toys, and food for him to find just so that I can tell him “no” and reinforce that he has to have “manners” here too. And of course the boys aren’t really good about picking up after themselves anyway…..so, yeah constant watching. ;-)  I have been multitasking making him do some commands while I am working on my computer…lol.


But, it is all worth it….every bit.  The peace we feel about not having to worry about Alex running off would be enough as it is, everything else is just icing on the cake. 

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