Unlike every other service dog, autism service dogs are trained to allow attention -- even too much attention, says Susan Wagner, who has trained 10 such dogs since founding
Perfect Fit Canines
in Churchill Borough two years ago. “Even though their ear is being tugged, 'I'll sit here, even though chaos is all around me,’” the dogs are trained to think, Wagner says.
She and husband Jim, who has two decades of experience with local schools and agencies serving children with autism, are getting more requests for dogs than they can handle, Wagner reports. And the dogs have many uses for kids and young adults along the autism spectrum. The animals can stop kids from bolting, track lost kids or alert parents to kids wandering at night. They can interrupt self-stimulation behavior or become a social connection for kids, especially because dogs are the only animals that look humans in the face to get their own social clues.
English labs and standard poodles are the current pooch of choice.
Perfect Fit’s greatest need is for puppy raisers: people willing to house and feed young dogs and get them acclimated to behaving in grocery stores, churches and other distracting environments. Perfect Fit pays for two training classes a month, the dog’s training vest, leash and collar, and connects trainers to volunteer and discount veterinarians, or pays for the care outright. The puppy trainer pays for food, treats and toys, but the biggest donation is time, of course -- andWagner points out that monetary expenses are tax deductible.
The idea of autism service dogs is gaining notice in the U.S., but the Wagners rely on an international organization for outside guidance on training methods. Susan Wagner hopes school districts continue to be more accepting of the animals, which can be a hurdle, she admits. "It's been widely used in other countries and other states for many years,” she says, “and it's now gaining more acceptance."
To find out more, contact Perfect Fit Canines here
Writer: Marty Levine
Source: Susan and Jim Wagner, Perfect Fit Canines