Dogs for Good autism Family Dog Sam.Dogs for Good Family Dog Sam.

It’s hit me again lately that we – starting with me – need to quit focusing on what’s messed up about all the laws and other stuff we’re trying to change, and work on what we can do right now to effectively work within what’s already there and improve things for everybody today.

That’s really how I’ve felt all along, and I used to operate that way here, but I’ve gotten away from it. Which is really easy to do given all the crap stuff that’s out there and that, of course, the media wants to talk about.

In that vein, I saw this post from Dogs for Good in the UK a couple days ago in conjunction with World Autism Awareness Week this week:

“1,000 families with a child with autism helped by Dogs for Good”

What they’re talking about is their Family Dog workshops, a program Dogs for Good launched in 2010 to help families with a child with an autism diagnosis successfully source, select, handle, and train a pet dog specifically to respond to the needs of their child.

These workshops came from Dogs for Good’s realization that, while they train Autism Assistance Dogs and there’s a clear need for one in many cases, many families don’t need one and are better served by an appropriately trained pet dog:

“We realised many children with autism didn’t need an assistance dog,” says Duncan Edwards, PAWS Family Dog team leader. “Just having a pet dog in the home can be incredibly beneficial, by providing an alternative focus and giving parents the opportunity to have a different relationship with their children because of the dog. Simple things can make a huge difference, like going for a walk together as a family.”

The workshop program consists of three one-day workshops, normally at least a month apart, at locations around the UK. Dogs for Good asks for a minimum donation of £60 – about 85 bucks – that covers the training as well as all materials, lunch, and refreshments at each of the three workshops.

The workshops use a combination of practical demonstrations with demo dogs, discussions, hands on learning, and course handouts to cover the following areas:

  •  Workshop 1
    • About the Family Dog Service
    • What to expect from your dog
    • How to get your children involved in looking after a dog
    • Developing the child-dog bond
    • Selecting the right dog
  • Workshop 2
    • How dogs communicate with us
    • How a dog can help your family
    • How dogs learn
    • Problem solving
  • Workshop 3
    • Setting up a training session
    • Different training styles
    • Advanced training
    • Goal setting
    • Fundraising

I’d love to point you at a program like this here in the US, but I can’t. Sure, there are places that train autism assistance dogs, but I’m not aware of any programs like this one where an organization educates families about all the dog options they might have, in particular training their own pet dog, and does that at a very low cost to the family.

But maybe I’ve missed them – if you run one or are aware of one like this, please let me know.

You would think that there would be, given not only the demand, but because Dogs for Good is a long time ADI-accredited place that’s been around for 30 years – Peter Gorbing, their CEO, is a past ADI president, in fact – and you’d like to think that other ADI organizations here in the US would have picked up on this program and duplicated it. Apparently not.

This has application far beyond just the autism area, too – it applies across the board for assistance dogs. Let’s face it – the blunt truth is we have too many people trying to talk other people into a service dog, something I’ve addressed many times here over the years. It’s just not appropriate to talk somebody into or out of a service dog. You tell them what’s available and what goes with each option, and let them decide.

And the simple fact is “we’re not gonna get there from here”, anyway, something else I’ve harped on for the last few years. There just aren’t enough dogs available, and a service dog isn’t the right answer for everybody for any number of reasons to begin with.

So how about it, somebody? Seems like a really smart way to attack the problem, and everybody wins.