Autism Spectrum Australia

Pawsperous friendships

  • Posted: 05/06/2014
  • Author: Thomas Kuzma
  • Comments: Loading.. .


Hi there folks. I hope you have been having an exciting week. I have been juggling my time between getting my costumes ready for this year’s convention season, writing, and giving my pet dog Tess attention.

Today there are plenty of dogs for those who have disabilities. We all know about Seeing Eye dogs to help the blind, but have you heard of Autism Service dogs? It might not surprise you to know that Autism Service Dogs are dogs trained to be with someone on the autism spectrum.

A Professional Opinion

As I studied the grounds of the Canine Academy I decided talk to Carri Robinson, an Assistance Dog Trainer from Assistance Dogs Australia about Autism Service dogs.

“There is a special chemistry between a child and their pet. While some children have a clear need for a fully trained assistance dog, a well-trained family pet can also have a massively beneficial impact.

"We run workshops designed to bring together parents of children with autism, to share their experiences and explore the potential that a pet dog might have within the family. Some families will already have pet dogs and need advice and guidance on how to manage interaction and maximise the benefits their pet can bring to the family. Other families are looking into getting a dog and need advice and guidance."

Benefits that families can experience are dependent on the individual families, but some benefits are:

  • Using the dog as a role model to help with daily routines, getting ready on a morning, brushing teeth, having a haircut. By teaching the dog to enjoy and participate in these activities it has been shown to be effective to encourage the child. Teaching the dog to sit at the kerb when crossing a road again can redirect a child’s attention to the safety of the dog and therefore at the same time ensuring their own road safety.
  • Increased exercise and social activities
  • A social icebreaker
  • Companionship
  • Calming Influence

So where’s the evidence?

Dogs for the Disabled and the University of Lincoln along with the National Autistic Society in the UK have just completed a three year research project on this matter. They investigated why dogs affect children with autism and the impact on the family as a whole and, while the sample size was relatively small, the findings were very positive. You can read more about the research project via the Dogs for the Disabled website

So how can having a pet help people on the autism spectrum? I talked to parent Sasha Victoria Corlett about how having a dog has improved their son’s quality of life.

A Family Opinion

"We researched dogs for two years before adopting Zarly in 2010, when Maddox was 4 years old. Growing up with dogs, I knew how naturally they can become a mate for life, which Maddox really needed (ie being the only child etc). We couldn’t rush the decision (since it’s a big commitment) and had to choose carefully considering the personality and needs of both Maddox and the dog. As soon as we met Zarly, we knew she was the one! It was perfect timing, because Maddox was struggling socially (which was heart-breaking) and Zarly was about to be sent off to the pound by her owners. From that point on, it has been the best thing we ever did for Maddox and Zarly.

"They have grown both together and individually, from strength to strength. In fact, whatever developmental aspects I was focusing on with Maddox, were reciprocated and collaborated with Zarly. We worked and played together as a team to help them both overcome their major milestones and anxieties.

"Amazingly, it couldn't have unfolded more smoothly, besides the potty training of course!! But at least they had fun getting messy together, through trial and error, with patience, persistence and partnership. So many stories to tell, but basically, they have been each other's best friend and hero, teacher and student, challenger and supporter, with unconditional love and loyalty. What better gift and relationship than that?"

My Two Cents

So, we all know the saying, there are cat people and then there dog people. Me? I love both equally.

I have had my fair share of dogs. My first dog was called Sam, and we were the best of buddies. After he ran away our family didn’t have a dog until one autumn afternoon a year later. Walking through the bush we found an abandoned dog, nursed him back to health, and called him Blackie. After a couple of years we decided he would be much better off running around in a farm over in the central tablelands.

Now we have a pet Shetland sheepdog. Her name is Tess and is the most cat-like dog I have ever seen. I swear she comes up to me in three situations:

  1. To get scratched
  2. To watch me eat
  3. To hide from the garbage truck

Maybe I am not giving her a good rap. If anything, she makes a very good guard dog. It doesn’t matter what time of the day, she will gallop to the door. She would bark to her heart’s content even though she only comes up to people’s shins. She is like Lassie, but very small. What is great is when we shave her in the summer.

In conclusion

Pets are purely extensions of how we treat ourselves. If you think John would survive without Garfield, then you haven’t seen Garfield minus Garfield. My older brother has a saying, “judge a person by how they respect an animal that can’t give them anything”. Now, don’t say anything to him, but I think he’s wrong. Even though they don’t say anything, they are there to provide us with comfort and support. Some of us may have a pet because we are lonely, others may want to feel superior in the face of a species they may find inferior. The thing is pets are a part of us. There are anti-allergen cats and anxiety pets to calm people that suffer from anxiety attacks (not to be mistaken with pets with high levels of anxiety!).

So when it comes down to it, maybe we should ask ourselves, why hasn’t there been Autism Service Dogs sooner? Anecdotally there seems to have been some great results. However we do need more research. In the meantime, if you feel that an Autism Service dog, or indeed any other pet, is right for your child, then I say go right ahead. Who knows, they may learn a thing or two about responsibility when you have one! But make sure you do your research, and read plenty of books (last week’s riddle answer) on the subject!

If you’re interested in a PAWS workshop visit their website or contact the PAWS team on 1800 688 364 or email

So that’s it for another week. So are you guys dog people, or cat people? Answer in the comments below. Have a great week everyone and remember, they may call you master, but you feed them, walk them and pick up their unmentionables, so who is really the boss?


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Pawsperous friendships