Assistance dogs (also known as service dogs) are dogs that are specifically trained to help individuals with various types of disability. In many countries assistance dogs have special access rights, to ensure their owners are not discriminated against. Their use has now been extended to individuals on the autism spectrum.
Some assistance dogs (autism assistance dogs) are dogs that are specially trained to assist in the day to day life of the family with a child on the autism spectrum. It is important that the dog is recognised as a 'working dog'. Because of this the dog will work in a special harness that connects it to both the parent and the child.
The dogs are trained to lead from the front, acting on instructions from the parent, while the child is usually encouraged to walk alongside the dog using a lead attached to the dog. The child may also be in a harness.
Different providers of assistance dogs have different methods but some people believe that careful breeding, careful puppy selection and establishing correct behaviour patterns early on are believed to reduce training time and increase safety.
Please note: An assistance dog is not the same as a therapy dog or a pet dog. A therapy dog is trained to provide comfort and affection to people in long-term care, hospitals, retirement homes, schools, mental health facilities, and other stressful situations to include disaster areas. Pet dogs may be trained or untrained and do not attract the accessibility benefits of an assistance dog.