by Laura Sylvester
Two months ago we celebrated the graduation of the Good Dog! Autism Companions Class of 2015. Presently we are hard at work matching our newest teams for our next rising class. When we begin matching potential canine and human pairs, there are several factors to consider. Good Dog! uses a three tiered system to evaluate personality compatibility, the child’s specific needs, and family environment.
When our service pups in-training reach approximately 16 months of age we begin the matching process, where we assess for potential compatibilities between our dogs and the parent handlers. Using Bonnie Bergin’s “Social Styles” scale, we assess both the parent and dog’s levels of assertiveness and responsiveness. Our team plots both the dog and parent’s traits onto a grid to see how they fall in relation to one another. Bergin’s “Social Styles” allow us to classify each person and pup into four basic categories: analytical, driver, amiable, and expressive. Each category can be further divided into subcategories: analytical-analytical, driver-analytical, amiable-analytical, expressive-analytical, driver-driver, driver-amiable, drver-expressive, amiable-amiable, amiable-expressive, expressive-expressive, and expressive-driver.
It is important to note that no one single ranking is better than another- they simply serve to categorize! Ideally we would like to assemble a team in which the dog is less assertive, less emotive, and more versatile than their human. This is done to ensure a strong and balanced relationship between the two, allowing the dog to naturally accept the parent as their leader.
Once we are confident that a particular dog and parent work well together, we consider the child’s relationship with the dog. Prior to matching parents are asked to complete an in-take form and partake in a phone interview to discuss their child’s specific needs. This information is used to match the unique needs of the child to the personality and skill-set of the dog. The aforementioned information is also used during the dog’s final two months of training, so the trainer can teach commands that are custom to the child.
During the final stage of matching we consider the home environment of the family. The temperament of the child is a large factor in determining if the dog is a good fit for the family. Just like no two children with autism are exactly alike, no two families living with autism are alike. Each family may want the service dog to play a different role in the child's life, whether to assist in motivating the child to play outside or help the child to calm and stay in one place for an extended period. To assimilate well into the household, the dog's personality should also be well matched with the family's routine. Activity levels vary for each household, thus we take a look at what an average day looks like. Some families are jet setters while others are homebodies - however our families spend their time together, we want to make sure the pup's personality fits nicely into the dynamic. The best bonds will form when the dog's natural state is matched with the family's natural way of being.
One might say that our matching process is an intricate one - we would agree! Our team is committed to finding the best matches between our service dogs and families. Good Dog! Autism Companions knows first hand the extraordinary benefit a service dog can be to a child with autism, and it all begins with the right partner.