Recently I saw a news story about a local autism assistance dog organization that was being sued by a few of the recipients of their dogs. The complaint from the recipient is that the dogs that were placed in the families home were not trained with the safety measures promised by the organization. These dogs were to be trained with both the “Search” command, to find the child with autism when they go missing, and “tethering” which is when the dog is tied to the child and acts as an anchor to stop the child if he was to bolt. “When the child tries to dart away the dog is trained to automatically lie down. Not only does this keep the child out of danger, but over time it can also teach the child to stop darting.”
Our thoughts on the autism assistance dog being dually trained as a search and rescue dog was written about in our last blog titled “Search and Rescue in the Autism Assistance Dog”
It is never safe to put a dog in charge of a child. Using a dog to act as an anchor to keep a child safe from bolting is a danger to both the child and the dog. However we have used tethering in some specific situations.
1) Increased independence for your child. Tethering allows your child to explore their world with a bit more freedom, but still have a bridge to both the dog and parent. A parent should always have the dog in a “heel” position when tethered, and has complete control over the dog. This is ideal for a child who is not prone to bolting, but may have tendencies to fixate, and needs a slight redirections from the dog to keep them moving forward.
2) For children with tactile issues, tethering allows a physical connection to their parent, but without having to hold hands. Tethering for the child with tactile issues is especially important especially if the child is more comfortable having a sensory item held in their hand, but still needs to be in contact with a parent.
3) A tether can provide a certain amount of physical pressure from dog the onto the child’s harness. Many times the child enjoys leaning into that pressure and may keep the walk more relaxed and rhythmical. A gentle tug from the dog gently allows the child to silently transition from the item that is catching their attention without the over stimulation that parent involvement may bring.
In any of these situations, It is always the responsibility of the parent to have total control over the dog, and not allow the dog to ever be put in a situation that the child may be pulled by the dog, or that the dog may pull the child.
If you are looking for an Autism Service dog, and you think that tethering may be an option for your family, take the time to explore with your autism assistance dog provider as to how this skill is going to be trained, and weigh the benefits of tethering, while considering the realities of using a dog as a tool for the safety for your child.