Autism and a Dog

Autism and a New Dog

The last time our family got a puppy, our son was eight years old. After a few months, the dog, a German Shepard, got to be very strong. She was difficult to walk on the leash. She had training, but didn’t “take to it” very well.

My husband and I decided to play it safe and not have our son walk the dog. It was simply too easy for the dog to see a squirrel and take off, potentially injuring our eight-year-old.

What happened to the dog?

Last fall, she developed a heart issue.  With medication, she got better.

That was until this past February, right before the pandemic. She got bad very quickly. In order to keep her from suffering, we had to put her down.

What was the pandemic?

At first, we were like most folks.

We didn’t know how to do this whole pandemic thing.

We were careful, we wore face masks and wiped down our groceries. I cleaned the common surfaces in our house once a day. We washed our hands sometimes twenty times a day.

We were scared. Especially for our elderly parents.

In addition, we didn’t know what you could do in a pandemic and what you can’t (or shouldn’t) do.

What about our plans for a dog?

Like a lot of folks, we had spring and summer plans.

Our trip to Arizona got canceled in March.

And, our summer trip to North Carolina and then onto Europe also had to be canceled.

Where does a dog fit into autism?

We’re a dog family. We wanted another dog in our family.

The plan after we put down our German Shepard in February was to get a puppy at the end of the summer, after we finished our traveling.

That was until the pandemic. When we got a better handle on living during a pandemic, we began to talk about how it might a good time to get the puppy. My husband worked from home and our son schooled from home. I had been laid off from my part time job.

Let’s get a puppy

We did.

After some research and patience, we got an eight-week-old Golden Retriever puppy.

What about the puppy and my child?

This time, my child was seventeen. He was not only old enough to have some significant puppy responsibly, but he embraced the challenge.

What did he do?

He walked to puppy and played with her. After a few weeks, he really began to bond with her.

One day, he even got a dog-ownership lesson. A rather difficult one.

He was walking the puppy and she slipped her collar.

She took off.

Luckily, she ran to our house.

Our son chased her but she was too fast to catch.

She ran all the way (past seven driveways) to our house.

At the bottom of our long driveway, he finally caught her.

He carried her home.

What was that experience like?

Welcome to dog ownership.

Things happen out there. Unexpected things. There are bad dogs, bad owns, reckless drivers, etc.

Bad things can also happen to the dog park (a lot of you can attest to that fact).

You never know what can happen when you take your dog out into the world. You want to protect the dog, and often the dog wants to protect you.

They typically love it outside and you (in turn) take the dog outside for various reasons (bathroom, exercise, social, play).

What happened to my son and his puppy was just one of those things.

Yes, it could have been tragic. My son, the puppy, or both of them could have been hurt.

Fortunately, nothing bad happened to either of them.

It affected my son, though.

How did he react to almost losing his dog?

He was upset. First, he apologized for the whole event, which he didn’t have to do.

Second, he kept bringing up a “what if” scenario. “What if she got hit by a car?”

It took a while, but I was able to calm him. His dad and I reassured him that he reacted well to a stressful situation. It was unexpected and could have been bad.

Could have, but didn’t end up that way.

The most important thing happened, they were both safe.

How did we respond?

I calmed my son. We listened to him about what had happened. I stood next to him and rubbed his back. We talked. We assured him that he reacted well and everything was okay.

After that, I told him a story.

When I was single, I had another dog in my life. When this dog was five months old, it got attacked by an adult dog. The adult dog had my puppy’s throat in its mouth!

I thought my puppy was dead.

I cried and was very upset. However, my puppy wasn’t dead. She was “playing dead.” A neighbor came and shook off the adult dog. My puppy stood up and ran to my car.

I ran after her, coaxed her out from under the car, and checked her out.

She was mostly okay (she had a few bites that had to be treated at the vet).

Why did I tell him this story?

In other words, my story meant that I had been there once. I had taken out a puppy and something bad almost happened. I was upset, too.

In the end, though, everything worked out okay.

They were all safe. And, my son learned a valuable lesson about dog ownership.

Stuff happens. You react to the best of your abilities. Hopefully, things work out okay.

In conclusion, get that puppy. Have the family love. And, do your best to keep everyone safe.

Here’s an article about how animals benefit children with autism:

How Animals Benefit Individuals with Autism


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