Finding our forever friend: The transition

Last week I made the journey I had been waiting for for almost a year. I was off to collect our new autism assistance dog, Monty. I was filled with excitement, nerves and apprehension. What if he didn’t like me? What if he didn’t respond to my commands? We had all been waiting for him for so long. There was so much emotional energy riding on this, not to mention the financial layout. And of course it didn’t help that I had to travel across the country during England’s first world cup game which meant there was an awful lot of shouting on the way over in the car… (we won by the skin of our teeth for anyone who wants to know).

The sun set and rose again the following morning as it does every day. But to me the morning felt so different. Full of hope and expectation. And the day didn’t fail to disappoint! I thoroughly enjoyed my time with the Autism Life Dogs team. Getting to know Monty and play some therapy games. If I’m honest, looking back, I think it went a little too well. But hindsight is twenty twenty.

The training finished and off we went back home. We stopped off for a walk and Monty was as good as gold. And then we arrived home.

Wow. What an impact. The dog I had been getting to know disappeared. He was defiant, challenging and attention seeking. Although I had had experience of dealing with dogs like this (and quite frankly a lot worse) before, I simply wasn’t prepared. I thought Monty would be nervous and anxious. But I wasn’t prepared for just how defiant he was. He was challenging us for head of the pack. And there was no way I was letting him win.

3 days of consistency (and a fair amount of chaos as kiddo adjusted to everything) and the dog I had met previously started to re emerge. 5 days on and he was even better. He was obedient, loving, playful and an absolute delight to have around. He was becoming our dog. I gave hubby and I some silent congratulations in my head. I admit that there were tears from me at one point in the first week. I can train a challenging dog, that’s not a problem. But what I couldn’t do was train a challenging dog whilst kiddo was having a meltdown in the other room. That was the whole reason we had gone with a specialist company and why we had laid out so much financially. And for the briefest of brief moments, I thought I had completely failed everyone.

But Monty proved me wrong. Because overnight something clicked. His anxiety faded and he began to settle. And now the real challenge began. I had to train kiddo. Kiddo needed to understand that the dog must be left in his own space when he needed down time. He needed to understand that his toys must now be confined to the conservatory until Monty wasn’t overcome with excitement by them. He needed to learn respect for the dog. And he hasn’t let me down.

For a child with limited understanding of language, he has done so well to start to understand the boundaries hubby and I have had to put in place. We’ve used pictures, we’ve used actions and lots of high fives and praise. But this is a journey.

The other major change is that kiddo is no longer the only dependent needing my attention. And that’s been a difficult pill for him to take. He has been inpatient (even more so than usual) and very demanding (again, even more so than usual). But this is a good lesson for him to learn. A tolerance which will help him so much in the future. Monty is already bringing benefits to our family that I hadn’t foreseen.

6 days on and the house has calmed down hugely. We have stripped some of Monty’s training right back to basics, and have started the whole crate training process again too. But he is responding and he is such a happy and affectionate pup.

But I won’t lie to you, it’s been tough. It’s been a steep learning curve. Even for us as experienced dog owners. Throw an autistic child in to the mix (or any child for that matter) and nothing is the same. It’s seriously hard work. Even with a fully trained dog. I read a lot of blogs from people who write about how amazing their dog is for their child and what positives they bring to the family. I couldn’t agree more. We are already seeing huge benefits. But I have never read about the true strain of introducing a dog into a new household, especially a chaotic one like this. So here’s my truth lovely people. A dog is the most incredible addition to any household. But be prepared for the start of transition. Because not every day is a walk in the park…

Thanks for reading,
Danielle.

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