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Dogs for Better Lives Programs Pave the Way for Children and Their Families

The bond between a child and a dog is often one of the most heartwarming things to see. The special connection takes on an even greater significance when it comes to Autism Assistance Dogs and Facility Dogs. Beyond a furry friend, these specially trained Assistance Dogs change the lives of children – and their families – by performing specific tasks that support children both physically and emotionally.

Dogs for Better Lives has two programs that impact children and their families in profound ways: Autism Assistance Dogs and Facility Dogs.

Autism Assistance Dogs are specially trained to enhance the well-being of children and families living with Autism by providing tasks to assist with keeping children grounded and focused. Autism Assistance Dogs are professionally trained to redirect repetitive behaviors through gentle pressure, and provide companionship dedicated solely to the child. Combined with their professional training, Autism Assistance Dogs’  calm and caring behavior have been shown to decrease anxiety, increase calmness, reduce emotional meltdowns, and foster more manageable bedtime routines.

Children who have an Autism Assistance Dog often experience:

  1. Improved Social Skills: These dogs can act as social catalysts, encouraging children to engage in interactions with others and promoting their social development.
  2. Reduced Anxiety and Stress: The calming presence of these canines can help reduce anxiety and stress levels, enabling children to better cope with overwhelming situations.
  3. Enhanced Communication: Through the assistance of these dogs, children with autism may improve their communication skills, including verbal and non-verbal cues.

“Serenity’s best command for Luke is “lap.” She will rest on his lap and ground him, giving him the sensory input he desires. Her favorite game is chase, and she sleeps on the bottom bunk in Luke’s room at night. Every morning, they all go for a walk to help calm some of the anxiety of facing a new day at school. She meets my every expectation for Luke. What I wasn’t expecting was how great she is for our entire family. We are all so in love with her now and she is the most well-mannered, sweetest thing.” – Stephanie and Luke who are paired with Autism Assistance Dog Serenity.

Facility Dogs, on the other hand, go to work with and assist professionals such as physicians, teachers, counselors, police officers, and child advocates. Many of the Facility Dogs we place work in schools, child advocacy centers,  and medical facilities. These dogs assist their professional handler in their work and foster a positive and inclusive environment for everyone involved. Each dog has been extensively trained in tasks designed to motivate, inspire, and enhance the lives of the clients they serve.

“The students really seem to enjoy Major’s tasks, especially “lap”! He has been hugely helpful in helping students processing grief around losing a family member, those with heightened anxiety around being in a classroom setting full time for the first time in two years, and those who are having an anxiety attack and need deep pressure and unconditional love to help reset.” – Kristin, School Psychologist and handler of Facility Dog Major.

Facility Dogs help children by:

  1. Making it easier to talk to licensed therapists and professionals about challenging experiences by providing a social bridge between the child and the adult.
  2. Actively engaging with kids to help promote structure, calmness, and learning in an educational environment.
  3. Helping children feel less fearful during medical visits by providing gentle pressure and a calming presence.

“Rolanda has helped multiple children and teens when they are getting vaccines in our clinic. They love hugging her and petting her while she is partially on their lap, which helps calm and distract them,” Alicia, Clinical Manager and handler of Facility Dog Rolanda

As of the date of this article, applications are open for Autism Assistance Dogs and Facility Dogs. Visit dogsforbetterlives.org/dogs for information about our programs and to complete an application. All Assistance Dogs are provided to our clients at ZERO cost, thanks to donor support.

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