The benefits of living with animals, both on an emotional and psychological level and even on a general health level, are more than proven. These benefits are even more visible when it comes to assistance or therapy dogs , where the animals are specifically trained to support people in need.
Among these people we find those affected by ASD (autism spectrum disorder) , that is why the Bocalán Foundation , which is dedicated to training assistance dogs, has a specific program of assistance dogs for children with autism (PSNA), a program with which Royal Canin actively collaborates. The Royal Canin team and Teo Mariscal, director of Bocalán explain what this program consists of and how assistance dogs can help children with autism.
What benefits do they bring?
An assistance dog for children with autism is very supportive in many ways, both emotionally and sensory, and in terms of their road safety. Animal-assisted therapy provides benefits that can be psychological, cognitive or psychomotor… and helps improve communication and socialization of patients.
For example, it can help control runaway behaviors through anchoring – quite common behavior – in addition to controlling stereotypes, facilitating road safety, achieving more fluid walks and controlling reactions such as tantrums or tantrums. They can also contribute to improving sleep patterns through contact with the dog.
To achieve this, the needs of the child in particular are analyzed and from there, the dog is trained to help him as much as possible. That is, the same dog has all the skills. They follow a basic social obedience training that is the same for all dogs and then specific skills are worked on (which will be more or less depending on the case) according to the needs of the child and the family.
Assistance dogs help people with ASD to control runaway behaviors, stereotypes, to facilitate road safety and to control reactions such as tantrums or tantrums.
What characteristics does an assistance dog have to meet?
It has to be a healthy and very balanced dog. The dog’s bearing is also important, especially for the ability of the anchors, since it will have to resist the traction that the child may generate. For this reason, medium / large size dogs such as Labrador, Golden or cross between Labrador and Bernese bouvier or even Poodle are usually sought.
Can both children and adults attend?
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So that a correct and optimal evolution can really be seen, it is recommended that the dog be incorporated into the life of the person since childhood . And this is important for a number of reasons, including that the dog would never tolerate running away behavior from an adult.
In the case of adults, the behaviors are usually already quite reinforced / internalized so it is more difficult for the dog to achieve the same effect. Although everything depends on the evaluation made by the psychologist and if it is determined that the dog may have an important role in the life of that person even knowing that there are certain functions that it will not be able to develop, therapy with the dog would also be recommended.
Zuri with Martín, the child he is going to attend, and the rest of his familyZuri with Martín, the child he is going to attend, and the rest of his familyRoyal Canin / Bocalán Foundation
How can a family get a service dog?
To get an assistance dog, in this case with the Bocalán Foundation, the interested family has to contact the Foundation and, after a series of interviews with a psychologist and presenting all the necessary documentation, it is the doctor who determines if that family and that child would be eligible to incorporate a PSNA assistance dog into their lives.
Contrary to what is thought, not all families are prepared to receive a dog and not in all cases the dog will be able to perform its functions, so if this is the case there is no point in continuing with the process. It must be borne in mind that the dog implies assuming responsibilities and that a lot of involvement is necessary.
If it is considered that both the family and the dog are suitable, the training begins , which consists of a part of social obedience, with a family of socialization for about a year; and a specific skills phase of PSNA (Assistance Dog for Children with Autism), which can last between six and fifteen months.
These dogs spend their first year of life in voluntary socializing families, whose job is to socialize the dog in an everyday environment. This is the first part of the process to be able to carry out your future work. It is during this period that the Royal Canin team is getting involved. They then return to the center, where they are educated by expert trainers in specific skills, as well as social behavior.
Not all families are prepared to receive a dog and not in all cases the dog is capable of performing its functions, so a prior evaluation must be carried out.
What makes a service dog different from a therapy dog?
From the social point of view, the assistance dog accompanies the same user in all or almost all their daily activities and is a dog that has public access to be able to carry out their tasks. A therapy dog does not have public access. An assistance dog is considered a living technical aid to improve the personal autonomy of a person with a disability, it directly helps the user, while a therapy dog provides technical help to the therapist with his patients.
Another difference is that the therapy dog is trained to perform its tasks with one or more groups in different environments, but only for the duration of the session. It is a dog that lives with its trainer. However, the assistance dog lives with its user and its training is solely and exclusively prepared for that person. Their tasks are daily when the user needs it, respecting the welfare of the animal and its needs.
We must also differentiate them from the companion dogs that we have at home. Companion dogs are not trained, so it is very difficult for them to help with specific tasks as a trained dog does. What it can provide is other types of benefits to people with autism, always depending on the bond that exists and how the dog is and its relationship with the environment / family. On an emotional level, they can bring a series of non-measurable benefits like any other companion animal.
Assistance and therapy dogs are different. The former accompany and live with the person, while those in therapy are a support for the therapists and work with different patients.
What to consider before requesting an assistance dog?
Both Royal Canin and Fundación Bocalán want to make it clear that families have to take into account that a dog is a living being that also needs care, attention, involves expenses and has its own needs that will fall on the parents, it is not simply a support for the family or the person with autism , therefore, they must be very well informed and not create false expectations, since the dog is one more help, but a process of adaptation is also necessary and include their routines to those of the family.
Assistance dogs can be useful for many people, for this reason, in addition to supporting the project to train assistance dogs for children with autism (PSNA), Royal Canin collaborates with other initiatives, such as the program “4 support legs COVID -19 ”which seeks to provide therapeutic support to pediatric patients with neurological damage and neurocognitive stimulation needs with the help of therapy dogs- from the Yaracán Foundation; and with the Once Guide of the Guide Dog Foundation, in which they contribute to improving the training of its professionals and providing customized nutrition for guide dogs.