At our service dog company in Salt Lake City we train a variety of service dogs. One of the most fulfilling is training service dogs for children with autism.
Parents will ask us for various tasks including finding a child who runs away and helping the child when anxiety or meltdowns occur.
We’ll often train a ‘pattern interrupt’. This is a behavior where the dog goes to the child, licks them, bothers them, puts pressure on them, etc. For many kids with autism this interrupter behavior can help them before they go into a tailspin or tantrum or can help bring them out of a meltdown.
We teach the dog to do this initially by pairing food with the task of running over to the child. As the behavior progresses we’ll withhold the food briefly so the dog has to push further to get the food. With more withholding the dog will push and work even harder.
As time goes on the dog will learn to go over and continually use his body to bring the child’s attention onto the dog.
Behaviors like this can be a huge deal for helping kids with autism to function better.