After much research online & talking to moms who have kids with special needs I have been in search of a “labernese” puppy. In the whole of MD, DC and VA I couldn’t find one, nor a breeder of this new hybrid “designer” dog. It seems that although there’s proven research to show that these gentle giants make not only great family pets, but they can emotionally support & bond better than your average Labrador.
Across Europe they’ve successfully taken the Labrador and the Bernese Mountain Dog, and produced a “labernese”.
I decided I wanted to find out if an assistance dog would improve the lives of my child and our family.
At first, I started doing searches on the internet and there wasn’t much research listed on “assistance dogs”. I then came across various (mostly on special needs forums) statements from families with assistance dogs who spoke of the improvements in their lives and how they were able to take part in normal activities again.
Having a special needs, or autistic child in the family does not just affect the child but it also affects the whole family. My son requires a lot of sensory input to keep his body under control. He has little or no comprehension of safety and has run away from us in theme parks, shopping malls, playgrounds, and it leaves me feeling like a nervous wreck. He is prone to temper tantrums, fits and bolting away and he hates crowds, loud noises or “too little structure”.
I stopped blogging for a long time because so many hours of my days are just emotionally spent looking after him & trying to get him as socialized & as up to speed developmentally as I possible can. This isn’t easy when he doesn’t want to sit for more than 3 minutes at a time. We can barely get through one letter of the alphabet, much less work on “upper and lowercase” letters.
I have another child who requires my love and attention also, and sometimes there are days when it’s very difficult to have quality one on one attention. Luckily she gets lots of wet sloppy kisses from our Labradors lol.
I also decided that after two years of “pep” pre-school where he was surrounded with other children who had “more” issues, or severe autism, that it was time for a change. (Because he has a late Oct birthday, he’d have been repeating pep for the 3rd year in a row, and won’t start kindergarten until he’s almost 6 years old).
My husband is a high school teacher & his school has a “training program” pre-school where the students become the teachers, and are supervised by real adult, trained teachers, but who in effect allow the students to come up with the curriculum for the year & oversee the classes. For me, this meant he’d be in a “normal” school setting and in my “hope springs eternal” mind, would have to “strive”, and would also see different (more positive) models of behaviour.
I put both him and my daughter into this almost 2hrs a day, 5 days a week program & stayed in touch with his teachers.
A normal day in our life would consist of me explaining (upon waking) to my son, the sequence of events for that day. That’s so nothing comes as a surprise (when he was with infants & toddlers we had pictures with velcro on the wall, depicting everything in the order that it would happen, but luckily we’ve moved past that to an oral method)… potty, brush teeth, wash hands/face, get dressed, come downstairs & play while breakfast is being made.
Then I normally will spend a good hour or more convincing him to eat. His body doesn’t have the same hunger signals that yours or mine does & because eating requires slowing down or even heaven forbid sitting down, it was something he was unable to cooperate with. Some days this turns into a full on temper tantrum, other days just mild coaxing.
After breakfast I would allow him to help with the dishes & he likes moving heavy objects around, so pushing all the kitchen chairs back into place is perfect for him. I usually then have both children go pick out a book & we would read, then while I get myself pulled together & HIS room picked back up, my daughter would watch some tv, while he would race around like a maniac wrecking the place & throwing his toys everywhere. He’d take a 30 second break every now and then to stand directly in front of the television before getting back to his chaotic behaviours.
Pre-school was at 11.45am so I’d make a light lunch & snack and once again try to force feed him while my daughter ate & coloured. Getting him into the car and strapped in can sometimes take up to 15 minutes, depending on how his day is going. By the time I got home from dropping them both off at school it was around 12.20 & I’d usually pick up the disaster that was now our living room, family room, kitchen & bathroom. I’d grab lunch for myself, wolf it down & try to get in “hot topics” from the View before pulling out a string cheese & ensure drink to take with me, so that as soon as he got in the car I could entice him to eat again.
Typically when the weather is good we spend a lot of our time outdoors at playgrounds, walking on trails, riding bikes, swimming, or playtime at our gym. Lunch would as usual be a fight, and I spend lots of my time following him around, asking him to take another bite.
Dinner time started out with a “timer”, he had to sit and eat for 3 minutes. Some days this was just impossible. Now that he’s older, we expect him to sit for 5 minutes, and between the end of dinner and bedtime I try to entice him with little nibbles, or a yogurt with blueberries sprinkled into it, or another string cheese, or a protein/weight gain shake (usually he’ll accept a mouthful at best). He LOVES healthy foods and vegetables & unlike my daughter, doesn’t get enticed by cake, or cookies, or “dessert like” treats. Sometimes all he wants to eat for dinner is a bowl filled with two pieces of cooked broccoli & 2 carrots, with maybe 2 small slices of chicken breast. It usually weighs less than 3oz.
After dinner they get to choose a family game, or we do flash cards (well rather my daughter and I do, and my son comes and goes as he needs to). We may watch a disney movie while he plays with his “trains”. He has been addicted to his trains since he was very young & frequently has a meltdown when he can’t remember where he put one, or worse yet when he’s lost it. He loses many things in one day, even though I’ve tried to streamline the processes as much as I can. He has containers in his closet for his shoes, his socks, his underwear, but he continually loses or can’t focus enough to find these things when they’re needed.
During a meltdown he’ll bang himself against the floor, or hit himself on the head & Max will go over and nudge him into stopping the behaviour. If that doesn’t work then I’ll physically pick him up and go somewhere dark and quiet with him, and hold him tightly. When we’re out in public it’s much harder.
He loves to have “chores” (although they have to be of his choosing unfortunately) so since the age of 3, he’s in charge of making sure our labradors have their food bowls filled with dog chow. He also goes out to the deck and makes sure that their water bowl is clean and filled, and during this time the dogs are usually rubbing up against him & it appears to calm him down and make him more focused on his “chore”.
Prior to bedtime, he’ll want to do chin ups, or jump the stairs, do hand stands, headstands, cartwheels & yoga to get himself “centered” and ready for bedtime. I usually give “warnings” 30 minutes out, then 15 minutes out, then 5 minutes out, and then finally 1 minute, this way he knows what’s coming and that 30 minutes allows the screaming to come out, or the temper tantrum to have fizzled before we head upstairs.
The dogs follow the whole family upstairs for bedtime – we all get into my sons big bed and he and my daughter are allowed 3 books each, which my husband and I will take turns reading. Afterward it’s time for sleeping, and this is his time to kiss the dogs & everyone else good night. He squeezes out the tightest hugs ever and is the most loving little guy I’ve ever met. We take our daughter to her room & kiss and tuck her in. We’re done by about 8.30, maybe a little later depending on his mood.
His room door now has an alarm on it (due to another scary incident that I’ve blogged about previously), and we make sure it’s set each and every night.
When I’m done, I usually get online for an hour or so & read up more on all his various issues. I’ve asked many questions, not just for my own family requirements, but those that would also include children with spectrum disorders, adhd, autism, sensory integration disorders, and children who are handicapped.
What Did I Find:
The greatest impact of the emotional/assistance dog is on the child’s independence and safety. Improvements were noticeable in physical stamina, ability to exercise and play with the dog, development of communication skills and calmer behaviour. The responses from the therapists clearly displayed improvements in social skills, communication, motor tasks, ability to follow instruction and level of motivation. The data collected, indicated that all subjects display affection towards their emotional/assistance dogs.
An assistance dog can enrich the quality of life for children with special needs and their families.
I’ve also found out many amazing facts about dogs in general:
- Dogs can smell human fingerprints that are a week old. Their noses are so sensitive that they can even smell electricity. While conducting an experiment, a researcher found that a dog could smell which of two boxes contained an electric current. He concluded this was because the charge resulted in the release of tiny amounts of ozone that the dog could detect.
- Apparently dogs prefer Bach to Britney. A study looked at the way hundreds of distressed rescue dogs reacted to different kinds of music. The sound of human voices and pop music by artists like Britney Spears did nothing to calm the stressed dogs. Heavy metal and grunge music made the dogs even more agitated. However, the scientists discovered that dogs relaxed and enjoyed themselves most when they were played classical music. They liked the sound of Bach in particular.
- Male dogs tend to be left-pawed, while females favour their front right paw.
- The ten brightest breeds of dog (ranked according to their ability to understand new commands in fewer than five repetitions and to obey first commands 95 per cent of the time or better) are: 1 Bernese Mountain Dog; 2 Poodle; 3 German Shepherd; 4 Golden Retriever; 5 Doberman Pinscher; 6 Shetland Sheepdog; 7 Labrador Retriever; 8 Papillon; 9 Rottweiler; 10 Australian Cattle Dog.
- The ten least bright breeds (ranked in descending order of ability to understand new commands, even after hundreds of repetitions) are: 1 Basset Hound; 2 Mastiff; 3 Beagle; 4 Pekingese; 5 Bloodhound; 6 Borzoi; 7 Chow Chow; 8 Bulldog; 9 Basenji; 10 Afghan Hound.
- Happy dogs wag their tails predominantly to the right. A study of how dogs respond to different stimuli was conducted by Italian neuroscientists and vets. Over a month, they watched a group of 30 dogs respond when they were briefly joined by their owner. The dogs’ tails wagged vigorously to the right when they were shown their owners and much less so when they saw an unfamiliar human.
- Some dogs are more likely than others to demand affection. Highest-ranking breeds: Lhasa Apso, Boston Terrier, English Springer Spaniel, Cocker Spaniel, Toy Poodle, Miniature Poodle. Lowestranking breeds: Chow Chow, Akita, Bloodhound, Rottweiler, Basset Hound, Collie.
- Dogs are good for human health. In the 1980s the University of Maryland found that recovering heart attack patients tended to live longer if they had dogs.
- Female dogs have a lower boredom threshold than males. In a major study in which both sexes were encouraged to look at a selection of different humans, the females got bored more quickly.
- A dog’s bark lasts on average for 0.2 seconds. A Beagle was once recorded barking 907 times in ten minutes. Some dogs are more likely than others to be guilty of excessive barking. Highest ranking breeds: Yorkshire Terrier, Cairn Terrier, Miniature Schnauzer, West Highland White Terrier, Fox Terrier, Beagle.
- Dogs that bark the least are: Bloodhound, Golden Retriever, Akita, Rottweiler, Newfoundland.
- Dogs are born with an equivalent of a thumb on the side of their feet. The extra digit, the dew claw, is a remnant of their evolutionary past that has become obsolete.
- Dogs can tell the time. During his famous experiments, the Russian physiologist Ivan Pavlov trained dogs to expect to receive food every half an hour. But when he changed the rules of the experiment and failed to give them anything, they still started salivating after almost exactly 30 minutes. Consciously or unconsciously, their internal clocks had told them to expect food.
- Dogs have around 1,700 taste-buds – almost four times as many as cats.
- An adult dog needs a diet of only 4 per cent protein, compared to 12 per cent for cats. This is why dogs are much better suited than cats to vegetarian diets.
- Chocolate can be poisonous to a dog because it contains high levels of theobromine, which is a cardiac stimulant and diuretic.
- Dogs are more likely to become overweight than cats. One vet reported that 30 per cent of dogs that came to his clinic were overweight. Only 10 per cent of cats suffered from obesity. Anorexia is more common in cats than dogs, though dogs can suffer from it. In their case, the condition is often associated with anxiety about being separated from their owners.
- Contrary to the familiar saying, old dogs can learn new tricks – provided, that is, they are following a healthy lifestyle. A study discovered that when elderly Beagles were fed on a diet of fruit, vegetables and vitamins and exercised regularly, they were able to learn a whole range of new tasks. Scientists think the healthy regime and mental stimulation stave off the onset of Alzheimer’s and other brain-related illnesses common in older dogs.
- Dogs are not colour-blind; they just don’t see the range of colours other species, such as humans, do. A study concluded their world is predominantly made up of yellows and blues. Cats can see limited amounts of colour.
- The source of the dog’s exceptional ability to smell is its wet snout. The moist leathery surface acts like Velcro, catching even the tiniest molecules of smells, then dissolving them so that the dog’s internal smell-receptor cells can analyse them properly. To keep its nose wet, a dog must produce a constant supply of mucus through the nasal cavities. Scientists reckon the average dog produces a pint of this mucus every day.
I definitely can see that our dogs have calming effects around our son & in fact the whole family. I know that due to high stress, I get anxious, but a few minutes of petting the dogs, or getting kisses from them, it lowers my blood pressure and removes the rash I get when I’m at “my limit”!
My only sadness comes from knowing that Max and Air Bear are getting old, and will not be with us for much longer & I suppose that pushes me into looking at which breed of dog we should get next, that will benefit our particular family. I’m thinking either a Bernese Mountain dog, or if I’m lucky enough to find one, a hybrid labernese. Maybe if Max hangs around long enough, I’ll breed him with a Berenese!