Incorporating a dog with a special needs child requires adults take charge. If situations are avoided because of anticipated problems — as is often the case with autistic chidlren — culminating in temper tantrums, meltdowns and misery, it’s only natural avoiding such environments when possible would be one way to go about it. But if there were a way to work through the “sticky wickets” and have successful outings that can be fun and energizing, wouldn’t you want to do them? Such a plan was in store when in our most recent public outing we went to a lovely open field at CWRU’s Squire Valley Vu Farm to work on deepening the partnership between Bubbles and Sam.
A few weeks ago, it was the challenges of a crowded indoor mall complete with hundreds of children and adults in costumes wandering about. Whether it was the confined environment or the oodles of people, Sam didn’t try to bolt even once during that outing. Sure he was drawn to the fascinating escalators, and loved riding up and then down on one, but he didn’t make a run for it.
The wide open spaces, cool and refreshing wind on Sam’s ruddy cheeks and wild scents coming into Bubbles’ twitching nose proved to be too irresistible — both Sam and Bubbles took off. Bubbles in one direction, Sam in another and along about a 10 ft. wide mown swath in the field. I wasn’t worried about losing him — I needed to see him in full blown action. I’ve seen him bolt in various places, but never in a place where he could just keep running in full view and along a path that allowed us to cut him off if needed. After all, there were 4 adults and a swift 12 year old as well as Bean, my go to dog in helping with unruly dogs.
It was worth noting that even as he was running off, at quite a steady clip for a 5 year old, he was looking back to check and make sure we were getting all excited about his antics (we were). He was like a puppy playing keepaway. Sam has had a few years — since becoming more mobile and coordinated — in practicing the art of elopement. Whether there is some internal mechanism compelling him to move, or it’s a rehearsed sequence of events, the behavior itself is nonetheless very scary. It’s clear Sam has no awareness of consequences. But it’s fun. The question is: can you turn the fun of running and feeling that freedom into a controlled and safe behavior?
Once wrangled, we configured a few different ways to see how to get a handle on Sam and Bubbles walking freely. First we started by a system of tethering. See the first video for how we did it, and note there isn’t any tension on leashes for dogs or child.
Next, we managed a brief sequence — but WE MANAGED it — in which neither Sam or Bubbles were tethered. Yes, they were dragging light lines so if need be we could step on them to prevent another bolting, but in this clip you can see they did a pretty great job. Sam is holding Sophie’s hand and having a grand old time.
And lastly, in this clip, moments of complete freedom from restraint — Sam holding onto Bubbles and Bubbles staying at his side despite the lure of Bean running free near her.
The entire outing was about 90 minutes. There were a few struggles — getting Bubbles out of an area with irresistible smells and Sam from irresistible mud — but overall Sam had a great outing in fresh air with a lot of activity and stimulation without a full blown tantrum as his parents were able to get him to move in with some struggle but no crashing. I can’t wait for him to go back and try it again. And again. And again.