Our club has sponsored Velvet, an Autism Support Dog. Here is some more information about these incredible dogs and the difference they make.
The South African Guide-dogs Association for the Blind is now training dogs to assist people with other disabilities other than blindness. The specially bred dogs are ready and able to perform a variety of basic tasks designed to bring independence.
Our training procedures are highly specialized. The dogs are trained in a variety of environments, including shopping malls, restaurants and other public places to prepare them for working in all types of situations.
Coming from carefully selected pedigreed stock, as puppies they are placed in volunteer homes with “Puppy Walkers” as we call them, to begin their first stages of training. After 12-14 months with the Puppy Walkers, the pup returns to the training centre to start with approximately six months advanced training. The skills and personalities of the dogs are thoroughly evaluated by the training staff, and each dog is matched to an applicant and very carefully assessed before being placed.
Training is as important for the prospective owner as it is for the dog, as the training of the dog will quickly break down if it is not handled and managed properly. Training for the owner usually consists of a stay at the Training Centre for 2 weeks, thereafter another 2 weeks at home to adjust to the environment or 1 month domicilary training at home. Each system has pros and cons for the individual and is something that would normally be discussed at the interview with the instructor.
Most Autism Dogs are reared from breeding stock owned by the Guide Dog Association. As puppies, they are brought up in families known as Puppy Walkers, who ensure that they are thoroughly domesticated and given some very basic training. The young dogs return to the training centre when they are about a year old and for the next six to nine months are taught how to assist people. By the time they are ready to be allocated to someone, the trainer knows just about everything there is to know about the character and attributes of each of the dogs under his control. Applicants will also have been interviewed and assessed so that the centre is able to select the most suitable dog for them. This process is most important to the success of the working partnership and great care is taken to make the best possible match.
There are usually 2-3 students on each course and their residential training at the centre starts by learning about the responsibilities of dog ownership and the needs of a working dog. A day or two after arriving at the centre, students are introduced to their dogs, who from then on stay with their new owners, sleeping in their rooms, learning how to be friends and partners for the rest of the course and for many years to come. Inevitably, new owners are apprehensive about working with a dog. Confidence is gained from the Instructors and other students.
At the end of the training course an Instructor returns home with the newly qualified Autism Dog Owner. The Instructor helps the Autism Dog and its owner to settle down to their new life together and provides assistance and advice.
The Training Centre keeps in touch with the Autism Dog Owners and regular visits will be made throughout the dog’s working life to help maintain safe and competent standards. Instructors are always on call to help in an emergency or if unforeseen problems arise.
Over the years, much will depend on the Autism Dog Owner ensuring that the dog’s work remains at a high standard. Every well-trained animal looks to its owner for a lead, and unless an Autism Dog receives clear instructions, firm control and lots of praise when it is working well, the quality of its work will soon deteriorate.
HOW THE ASSOCIATION HELPS
The Association aims to provide Autism Dogs for as many children/ people as can use them safely, and will supply a fully trained Autism Dog to any suitable person who completes the training programme successfully.
To ensure that no one is deterred from having an Autism Dog on financial grounds the Autism Dog Owner is asked to pay only R5.00 for the dog.
Students are expected to pay their own fares to and from the training centre and contribute R100.00 towards the cost of their board and lodging whilst undergoing training. However, sympathetic consideration is given to anyone likely to face financial difficulties through this requirement. It does cost approximately R250 per month to maintain the dog’s health and care.
HOW TO APPLY FOR AN AUTISM DOG
Apply to: The Guide Dog Services Manager,
The South African Guide-dogs Association for the Blind
Box 67585, Bryanston, 2021
Telephone : 011 705-3512
E-mail – firstname.lastname@example.org
When the completed forms are received, and if there is no obvious reason why the applicant cannot be trained, the applicant is placed on file and arrangements made for an informal interview. The applicant will then be called as soon as possible for training.