Over the past month, our family has been making a change that has had a profound impact on our 8yr old son. We now have a service dog, Kiki.
We found Kiki at a local animal shelter. She is a German Shepherd/Pyrenees mix with a sweet personality. She was 5 months old when we found her. Our son has loved her from the beginning.
The day that we brought her home, we stopped at a PetsMart store to buy a few supplies for her. She walked in on a leash with our son helping to hold her leash. Typically, Little Man gets easily overwhelmed by stimuli at stores. On this day, he was so focused on Kiki that he had no meltdowns or overstimulation issues. What a huge improvement!
I began obedience training Kiki right away. Her primary tasks are to 1) comfort Little Man to prevent meltdowns and 2) prevent him from running off. Kiki had already learned to lay down when we stop walking in a store or other setting away from home. By doing so, Little Man is unable to wander off. I hold on to her leash while Little Man does as well. We have a short leash that connects Little Man to Kiki's harness. Once laying down, Kiki is too heavy for Little Man to move. This is how she prevents him from wandering.
We took a trial run with Kiki at a grocery store yesterday. She performed great. She was very obedient and her presence made it possible for Little Man to walk through the store without any issues. He stayed by her side and had no upset from the stimuli.
At home, we have already witnessed a difference in Little Man as well. He is much calmer, having fewer meltdowns, and has become more vocal. He is still nonverbal, but he is vocalising in his own way with greater frequency. He has even begun to echo a word now and then.
The training of Kiki is continuing daily. We know that it takes time to fully train a service dog. I've trained dogs in the past, so am well versed in what needs to be taught. I also know trainers that I can call upon if needed to help, should there be a need.
In the short time that Kiki has been in our home, she has made a profound difference in our son's life. I am so excited for him and cannot wait to see what the future holds for him and Kiki.