In 1999, one particular mother, Kelly Capers, approached the program with a very complicated "job description" for which she wanted to train a dog. Her son had
autism, and she, being a long-time breeder and a handler of many different dogs, absolutely knew something should be possible. She just didn't know how, or
where, and during a two-year search, she had been turned down by many other programs. But she wasn't going to give up--and she had a very interesting
concept. When Kelly and Dogs For Disabled put their resources together, they realized they had defined some significant pieces to the puzzle of service dogs
working with autism. Why not give it a try?
In 2001 Dogs for Disabled, then under the training direction of Julie Nye, began work with "Larissa," the first dog chosen for the Assistive-Search-Alert (ASA) job.
Larissa was certified in 2002 for public assistance and 2003 for search and rescue. More details of that project are are available in Chapter 14 of the book,
"Practical Partners," available from Fieldstone Hill Press.
In the last five years other ASA dogs have been successfully trained and placed with in a variety of different home situations, proving that the concept can be
realistically applied. In 2007 Dogs for Disabled made the decision to focus primarily on the disability of autism, and thus altered the program name to Dogs for
Autism. We hope to greatly increase the use of service dogs to benefit individuals and families coping with autism. We hope to see the ASA dogs become far
more common not only in the Greenville area, but in many other locations. Part of our program's purpose and mission statement is to document and package the
training protocol for ASA dogs into a format that can be made available to other programs in any geographic area with sufficient training expertise.
German Shepherds, from proven and specially-selected working lines, are DFA's most commonly used breed for a wide variety of reasons. Some strengths this
particular type are because of their genetic background as a herding dog. The concept of containment of the "family pack" and awareness of property boundaries
comes very naturally to them. Beyond that, they are highly sensitive to context; it is a normal reaction of the breed to spot, and focus on, a new factor in almost any
given environment or situation, therefore it is extremely easy to encourage them to give an alert to specific problems. Overall, we believe many factors favor
German Shepherds for ASA work--just as most factors favor retrievers for the more typical service dogs that work with mobility impairments.
We encourge you to visit us often as we expand this website to include more information about our progress with ASA dogs.
Please remember that both our current training projects and the ability to expand the use service dogs for autism will be possible only through the support
of friends who believe in the importance of the concept!
Our program was originally Dogs For Disabled, founded in 1991 by internationally-known
trainer Connie Cleveland, that dog training should make sense--and WORK--not only in
a show ring, but against the realistic background of daily life. All our trainers learned to
use pragmatic effectiveness as the basis for measuring progress.
The Americans With Disabilities Act was new when we started. ASA dogs were far in the
future. Everybody knew what a guide dog was, but back then, even the concept of using a
dog to help with a wheelchair or crutches took a lot of explaining. As the years rolled
along we learned (sometimes through the school of hard knocks) a lot about improvising
training techniques to meet the specific needs of individual clients.
DFD became a well known--small, but potent--training group, placing more than 200
dogs in jobs serving a wide variety of disabilities, including Paraplegia, Quadriplegia,
Spina Bifida, Multiple Sclerosis, Parkinsons, amputation, substantial burns, and brain
injury. Graduate dogs have been placed in 11 states, South America, and Canada,
earning Dogs For Disabled recognition as one of the highest-quality training agencies in
Why did we choose a focus on Autism?
Dogs For Disabled didn't set out looking for chances to work with autism. The disorder
more or less came looking for us. In the late 1990s, when questions about service dogs
for autism were rapidly increasing, Dogs For Disabled was already pretty well
conditioned to considering new questions. We made a point of trying to view all new
questions as: "Hmmm....wonder if that could be made to work," Rather than: "Oh, no, we
don't do that here."