Tuesday, 15 January 2013

He's So Well Behaved...Can I Take Your Dog Home With Me?

You'd be surprised at the comments you hear when you're out in public with a service dog. Take a look at this funny video to hear some of the things people have said to this service dog handler:

I wrote the following post for the Waterloo Region Family Network blog in November of 2010 to raise awareness about service dogs and how they can help children with developmental disabilities. I thought I'd run it again here to explain the role that our service dog, Bentley plays in Carter's life. 

Boys Best Friend

Bentley is a seventeen month old yellow lab who came to live with our family a week ago. He will be my son Carter’s service dog. I have been walking Bentley regularly to become more comfortable handling him so that he and I can work together to help my son.

It’s true what they say about babies and puppies; if you're accompanied by either one, you're sure to get a lot of attention. When walking through my neighbourhood I've had others who are out walking pepper me with questions about Bentley: How old is he? When did you get him? The usual kinds of things. And then there's the inevitable comment about what a well behaved dog he is. When I mention that Bentley is a fully trained service dog I get blank stares in response.

I'm guessing that most people are familiar with guide dogs that aid people with visual impairments, but beyond that they haven't been exposed to service dogs that provide help to children with developmental disabilities.

Take a look at the list of ways a service dog can benefit a child with a developmental disability or autism (from the Autism Dog Services website):
  • Improve safety and security at home, in public, and at school.
  • Help prevent a child from bolting into traffic or other dangerous situations.
  • Provide independence, allowing the child to walk holding their dog rather than a parent’s hand.
  • Lend support and a calming influence to the child as they cope in highly stressful situations and changes in routine.
  • Allow greater freedom for families to participate in outings and activities.
  • Help with transitioning and behaviour when out in public.
  • Help improve socialization skills by bridging the gap between children with developmental disabilities and society.
  • Act as a constant companion, offering unconditional love and friendship.

For Carter, one of the greatest benefits a service dog can provide is an increased level of independence. With practise, Carter will eventually hold on to the handle on Bentley's jacket rather than the hand of an adult when out in public. Carter is easily distracted by all that is going on around him during outings and it can be quite a challenge keeping him focused and moving forward. Bentley will act as his anchor as they walk along together.

Carter is non-verbal and interacts and communicates in a unique way. When in public, if people see that he is with a service dog, my hope is that he will receive acceptance instead of questioning stares. Hopefully Bentley will draw people to Carter in a positive way and maybe even create opportunities for him to meet some new friends.

Carter’s siblings are often invited to birthday parties and play dates. Unfortunately, social outings like these are few and far between for Carter. Although having a dog is not the same as being invited out with friends, Bentley will be a loyal companion who will love Carter unconditionally.

To learn more about service dogs check out these websites:


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