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Changing Lives -
one paw at a time


What is an Autism Assistance dog?

An assistance dog is trained in specialist tasks to support a person with disabilities.  Assistance dogs work in many sectors including, but not limited to, Guide Dogs for the Blind, Hearing Dogs for the Deaf, Epilepsy/Seizure alert, Diabetes and PTSD.   All of these dogs do very important work that requires different skill-sets.

Autism Assistance dogs are specially trained to provide support to those with autism at home and in the community.  Traditionally autism assistance dogs have only been used to provide physical support but we are only recently learning the vast scope of how these dogs can help children with ASD.   As such, organisations training autism assistance dogs are all doing different things.  The focus of our work is to support the unique social and emotional difficulties of autism, as well as improving skill sets that children with developmental difficulties struggle with using the Autism Life Dog Therapy Programme.


What is the Autism Life Dog Therapy Programme?

A combination therapy intervention using play activity with your Autism Life Dog as therapeutic opportunities designed to support your child’s development. The programme uses interactive games to learn, practice and improve important skill sets – particularly those that are especially challenging for children with autism and related developmental difficulties.


What benefits might I see with an Autism Life Dog?

Families that have been using the therapy programme say that they see a noticeable improvement in meaningful communication and increase in vocalisations and vocabulary.  The therapy programme focuses on developing communication and interaction skills and we have seen a number of our previously non-verbal children develop verbal communication skills.

Parents have also report a marked reduction in bolting/absconding when out in the community; as well as a significant reduction in anxiety, aggressive outbursts, challenging behaviour and ‘meltdowns’.  There is often an overall improvement in emotional stability and an increased sense of independence and self-confidence.

Having an autism assistance dog can have a significantly positive effect on the whole family providing a common love and bond for all of the family to enjoy playful interaction with each other and able to more easily access the community.



What qualifications and specialism do the team have?

Please see the ALD Team page for details of our team, their experience and qualifications.


I want to apply for an Autism Life Dog – what are the next steps?

The first step would be to apply via our online application form under the ‘Apply for a Dog’ section of our website.  This form will ask for information regarding your family and your hopes and needs for an autism support dog.

Once we have received your application one of the team will call you to discuss it and you will be invited to attend an assessment session.  This will be an opportunity for you to meet one or more of our trained autism support dogs so that you can see our programme in action and ask any questions you may have about the process.  It will also give our team the chance to see how your child interacts with a support dog to see if we feel it would be a beneficial programme for your family.   An introductory therapy session lasts approximately 30 – 40 minutes and costs £50.00 (£75.00 if more than one child on the spectrum/with additional needs) – this amount is taken off the deposit if you decide to go ahead with the programme.

A deposit of £1500 will enable us to start the matching process, where our team will use information gathered from your application form, the family interview and therapy session, as well as our experience, to match your family with a dog that we feel is suitable according to personality and needs.  You will be invited to meet this dog at a Matching Play-date.  We encourage all of the family to attend this so that you can all play and interact with the dog and get a better understanding of if it feels like the right match for you.

When a decision is made on a dog that is the right match, your dog will enter their advanced level training which takes approximately 4-6 weeks.  Towards the end of your dog’s residential training, parents will be invited for their Family Handler Training, where you will learn how to work with your dog at home and in the community, and receive a demonstration all of the games, activities and interventions of the programme.

Once your dog has completed their residential training, your dog will come home with you.  You will then be responsible for implementing and practising working with your dog at home and in and around your local area.  We will support you with aftercare and advice to achieve a successful transition and long-term working relationship.


How much does an Autism Life Dog cost?

As a non-profit organisation with charitable objectives we provide our service cost possible whilst maintaining the highest training standards and quality.

The specialist training to adequately prepare and place a dog as a support dog can cost upwards of £20,000 and we ask families to make a contribution to the overall training costs.

The family contribution for the training and placement of an Autism Life Dog is £9000.00.  

This includes:

  • trained and certified autism assistance dog; support dog harness and leads
  • Autism Life Dog Therapy Programme Manual;
  • Family Handler training;
  • Aftercare support

You may also wish to purchase a Therapy Toybox at a cost of £300.00 which contains all of the toys and games needed to play the Autism Life Dog Therapy Programme. The therapy programme has been designed to be played with toys and items easily available in stores, online or around the house.

Please note prices are excluding VAT.

Please also consider the on-going food, health and insurance costs of having a dog, which is estimated around £1500.00 per year.


How long is your waiting list?

Currently the waiting time is approximately 18 months from the time of application and acceptance onto our programme to when an assistance dog would transition to your home.


Do you provide any help with fundraising?

We will do what we can to support your fundraising with advice and guidance.  Whilst fundraising might seem like an overwhelming task, many of our families have successfully raised the contribution money for their dogs and there are a few pathways that we can recommend for you.  Please get in touch with us and request a fundraising pack for more information.


Do I have to pay all of the training contribution cost upfront?

No – a deposit will secure your place on our waiting list and will allow us to start the assessment and matching process.  The remaining contribution is divided into three instalments, with the final instalment due on or before the Transition Day, when your dog comes home with you.


Will I have to travel?

We do our best to work with families all over the UK and have trainers who are based in London, Kent and Yorkshire.  You will be required to travel to one of those locations to attend your Introductory Assessment session, Matching Play-date; Family Handler Training, Transition Day and for any follow-up training sessions.  
Family Handler training to include community access preparation is done over a few days and it may be that you need to consider staying overnight locally.   We do not recommend children attend the Family Handler training sessions and therefore you will need to consider child care options to attend training.


Are you ADI accredited?

The ADI (Assistance Dogs International) have long been the accrediting body for assistance dog training organisations.  With the changes and developments in the assistance dog sector in the last 10 years, there is a need to reform accrediting standards, not just in the UK but standardised throughout Europe.  As such new standards are being developed through the European Committee for Standardization (CEN) and the British Standards Institute (BSI).  The scope of CEN/TC 452 is to develop European standard(s) in the field of assistance dogs, users and training staff.  Committees of experts in this sector have been formulated in each European country, who will be responsible for advising and developing the new standards.  Autism Life Dogs is a member of the committee providing the UK input and we will be following these new standards as they are being developed.


What is your eligibility criteria?

Our aim is to help as many children and families with autism as we can and that our programme is beneficial for.

All applicants will be considered regardless of race, sex, religion, creed, or any other categories protected by law but must have a confirmed diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder.

Please note that our therapy programme is based around children’s developmental milestones and therefore the optimum age bracket is between the ages of 4 – 12 years old. Whilst we appreciate the need for autism assistance dogs for adults, we currently do not have a programme for this.

Our dogs are trained to support one child and therefore we cannot place a dog in a household where there is more than one child on the autistic spectrum to support.

A family must genuinely want and enjoy the companionship of a dog and want to create a close working relationship with a canine partner. You must also have the resources and finances to be able to adequately care for a dog.
We are not able to place an autism assistance dog in a household where the primary carer works outside of the family home.

It is not appropriate to place an autism assistance dog in a household that already has a pet dog and families will have to consider re-homing a family dog to have an autism assistance dog.  


Why do you only train Labradors and Retrievers?

Labradors and Golden Retrievers have great temperaments, are highly intelligent and enjoy training, working and being with a human companion. They are friendly, loyal and endlessly loving and affectionate. Their playfulness means they enjoy doing the therapeutic games and they are very attuned and responsive to their human’s energy.

Labradors and Retrievers are also unique in the fact that they have a higher level of oxytocin, serotonin and dopamine (hormones that are responsible for social interaction, attachment and bonding, reducing anxieties and improving overall feelings of well-being). They significantly lower anxiety and stress levels which reduce challenging behaviour and ‘meltdowns’. Evidence suggests that there are lower levels of these hormones in people with autism, so by having a Labrador or Retriever in your home you get a 24/7 hormone therapy which has many positive effects on a child’s communication and social interaction skills.


Are Autism Life Dogs trained in attachment/tethering?

We do not train our dogs to work with an attachment or tether – our harnesses have a special handle attachment for a child to hold on to but are not attached.  Our therapy programme focuses on using interventions to engage a child in roadside safety awareness with their dog and reducing sensory integration issues which is the root cause of bolting/absconding behaviours, with the aim of increasing awareness and personal safety rather than restricting the mobility of a child.