06 Jul What is a Smart Pup trained to do?
At eight weeks old, specially bred and selected Labradors and Golden Retrievers begin their training with foster families.
Their daily routine is one of fun, sleep, exercise, house training, and basic obedience.
Puppies enjoy lots of socialisation and public interaction out in the community.
When they are 6–8 months old, puppies learn and pass a special program of General Training Modules at their own pace before progressing to the Advanced Training Program (usually starting around 10–11 months old), that includes ‘task specific’ training modules.
This is when a Smart Pup is generally matched with a child, and their training is targeted so that their skills meet that child’s needs.
There are five areas of expertise in training:
1. Autism Assistance
Autism Assistance dogs can enhance quality of life for children with autism by helping them feel safer, calmer and more understood through their bond with a Smart Pup.
These trusty canine companions can increase an autistic child’s ability to cope with life, ease sensory overload and provide emotional support.
A Smart Pup acts as a bridge between each child and the outside world; guiding children through their daily routine, keeping them safe and comforting them when the world just gets too much.
Smart Pups are trained to quickly find their child using their sense of smell. In an emergency situation where the child has run away or wandered off, this skill can be life saving.
Smart pups are also trained to touch or nudge their child to disrupt repetitive or destructive behaviours, and snuggle and comfort their child if they become upset or distressed which helps prevent the child’s emotional reaction from escalating into a meltdown.
2. Medical/Diabetic Alert
Diabetic Alert Dogs assist children who have insulin-dependent Type 1 Diabetes and are trained to smell the chemical body changes that occur as insulin levels increase or drop, and alert a child’s parents or guardian who can check blood sugar levels and take appropriate action.
Training Diabetic Alert Dogs for children means that we must train a dog that is unique in its ability to meet the needs of both the child with diabetes and the child’s family.
Smart Pups encourages families to apply for a Diabetic Alert Dog when the child is around four years old, factoring in the benefits of early intervention and with the working life of an assistance dog being around eight to ten years.
In addition to the alert work, these dogs provide a measure of comfort for the child, increased self-esteem and confidence, a distraction during unpleasant medical procedures and, of course, companionship.
Diabetic Alert Assistance Dogs are trained to accompany their child at all times and are certified for full public access.
3. Seizure Response
Seizure Response Assistance Dogs are trained to alert a guardian adult when their child is having a seizure.
The dogs are also trained to assist with post-seizure recovery by providing comfort and support to their child to lean on when experiencing post-seizure frailty.
Dogs can often predict oncoming seizures up to 20 minutes beforehand and alert a guardian adult. Although trainers do all they can to prepare a dog for this task, they can’t guarantee a Smart Pup will always perform with complete success and reliability.
Many children with a Seizure Response Dog experience a decrease in seizure activity. Although a direct link has not yet been proven, in some cases this may be attributed to a decrease in stress due to the support and companionship of a loving assistance dog.
4. Mobility Assistance
Mobility Assistance Dogs give children independence, companionship and support.
The dogs are trained to perform tasks based upon the child’s specific needs, such as to open and close doors, drawers, cupboards and fridge, act as a brace to assist with balance and manoeuvring, retrieve dropped items or fetching specific items, turn lights on and off, press the button at the traffic lights, carry items, and signal if their child is in danger.
5. Vision Assistance
Vision Assistance Dogs help children who are visually impaired.
Smart Pups does not train Guide Dogs for children who are blind or visually impaired. However, we can provide Smart Pups that are trained in some guide work, as well as other task-specific skills according to the needs of each child.
With our guiding assistance dog work, the child learns to walk with using a guide dog harness on their assistance dog to navigate their environment. However rather than the child acting as the navigator, the adult caregiver in the child’s life plays that role. By providing the child with the ability to walk using the dog rather than holding a parent’s hand Smart Pups Vision Assistance Dogs give the child a new level of independence, mobility and confidence.
In the final weeks of training, the trainers focus on ensuring the assistance dog has mastered the task-specific skills needed to assist each child and family.
Timing for this varies according to the number of different skills the young dog needs to practice and the pace at which the dog perfects them.
Families are encouraged to prepare for a Smart Pup in their home and face-to-face training sessions are provided at the Smart Pups Sunshine Coast training facility on how to care for, handle and maintain the skills of each assistance dog.
Smart Pups are 12-18 months old when they are placed with their recipient family. A trainer spends up to five days helping the young dog to bond with its child and settle into its new home and teach the child and family how to use the right commands and signals to communicate with their new family member.
The purpose of a Smart Pup is to reduce stress, anxiety, isolation and depression in children with special needs.
Having a loving and highly skilled canine companion can increase a child’s independence, improve social interaction and life experience, provide a feeling of safety, confidence and happiness that leads to improved self-esteem, and improve wellbeing.
Unprecedented demand for fully trained Smart Pups means the waiting list is at full capacity and families are currently waiting up to two years to receive a Smart Pup.
A newly-opened, larger training facility at Verrierdale on the Sunshine Coast is expected to reduce the wait time to six months.
To apply for a Smart Pup, go to: apply-for-a-smart-pup