Julian has now met with eighteen different dogs over two years of working with the Love Dog therapy team. Julian is on the autism spectrum and views the world in a unique way. Routine and familiarity are his friends.
He usually has my small poodle Benny with him for our session and often we bring another dog to work with him. Each dog has a different skill set or reason to be invited to a session.
I usually arrive first and wait in the lobby of the therapy center. I almost always have a dog with me. Sometimes it is Petey but almost every time I bring Julian’s friend Benny. Then if other dogs are joining us they arrive afterwards.
We found out recently how much surprises throw Julian off. His anxiety pitches to a new high when something happens out of order.
His relationship with animals has improved dramatically over the years but he is with trained dogs that only bark or move quickly on command. And they are always on a leash. Julian has come to understand the leash and feels safe when he sees a dog out in the world when it is on a leash.
However dogs running around or right past him off leash is still a frightening thing. So this week we wanted to challenge this with the dogs. Let’s teach him how to cope and recover from something new and the unexpected.
The newness started from the moment Julian walked into the center’s lobby. I was there but I did not have a dog with me. Julian was startled and became distant. Adjusting to seeing me without a dog was difficult for him.
Then I told him we were going to “look for dogs.” We went outside the building and walked around. Just walking with me without a dog was strange for him. We kept looking for dogs but no dogs! Yet!
I had arranged for a Love Dog he had never met to be around the corner. Sasha is a beautiful Shepherd mix, much larger than Benny. When I gave the signal, Sasha’s handler ran around the corner and right past Julian – fast!
Even though Sasha was of course on a leash, going by so quickly was the unexpected element we wanted to work on. The great news is Julian did not run and scream in fear as he had done in the past.
And looked right at Sasha.
He noted Sasha was on a leash.
He noted Sasha was standing still and waiting for him to greet her.
He noted that something out of the ordinary could happen and he could still feel safe.
Very soon after we introduced Sasha to Julian and asked if he wanted to walk her. On went our second leash in our safe method of attachment and off they went. Julian’s body language said it all at first. His arms were crossed and he was still a bit stuck. But within moments he was walking Sasha with his leash in the loose position, as he had been taught.
We walked all around the building and went in to our therapy room.
Julian was still in recovery mode when Sasha laid down. She sure is big!
He was anxious about touching her but he did.
He was anxious about going behind her but he did.
He was anxious about having her stand up or move quickly, but he worked through it.
By the end of the session Julian and Sasha were calm together and he was able to walk her out to her car and run with her so she could jump into the car! He actually ran with a dog.
Good job Sasha.
Good job Julian.
Just wait for next week as I have a plan to up the element of surprise! Benny is having such fun learning what he has to do!