I have always loved dogs, having grown up with them, and so when I went to university in a different city and lived on my own, I really wanted my own dog. I would see other students on the Western University campus training service dogs and I would always talk to them about it. Once I got my own place, I looked into training service dogs and by November 2012 I had my very own chocolate standard poodle (4 months at the time) to train. His name is Virgil and he's more popular than I am. We were featured on my university's website! and within the next week or so a London newspaper will be doing a feature on us as well. This is Virgil and I at a car show last week where we helped raise money for the organization I volunteer with, Autism Dog Services.

EDIT: Some people have been asking to see more pictures of Virgil so I posted a few here. Enjoy!

EDIT: Thank you everyone for your questions and kind words! I truly appreciate it :) If I haven't answered your question, its probably because I had already answered it a few other times already, so look at the comments and stuff and see if you can find the answer you're looking for :)

Comments: 560 • Responses: 48  • Date: 

piltass375 karma

Definitely read the title as "I am a service dog who will eventually go to a child with autism. AMA!" Less interested now.

adrianahasaids10 karma

I, too, clicked this thinking the dog would be giving the answers.

poshpoodle72 karma

He is giving me the answers...I'm just typing for him. Apple doesn't make paw-friendly keyboards........yet.

MissSassyPants59 karma

How long does it take to prepare/train a dog before it can go to its new home? What kinds of things are you training him to do, other then basic obedience/dog manners?

poshpoodle66 karma

I will have Virgil for 12-18 months, depending on his training. After that, he goes to advanced training for 4-6 months. Aside from basic obedience/dog manners, one of the main components is his vest training. He needs to learn that whenever he is wearing his vest, he is working. I put his vest on before I take him anywhere where he may one day be "working". I put it on before I take him to class, before taking him on the bus, etc. He is absolutely not allowed to play with people or other dogs in his vest. He also shouldn't eat or relieve himself while wearing it, but the latter is a little more difficult to train.

Tedddison59 karma

Do you also get to wear a vest?

poshpoodle62 karma

I wish :(

miparasito24 karma

How do you discourage certain behaviors when the vest is on?

poshpoodle49 karma

All I can really do is just take the vest off him. I can't punish him for peeing while he's wearing the vest, because he won't make the connection of "do not pee in vest," he'll just think I'm scolding him for peeing. It's something that has to be learned kind of like a habit.

ThatsMrAsshole2You18 karma

To clarify- Are you saying that by taking the vest off of him when (or right after) he urinates that, over time, he will learn that he should only urinate while the vest is off? How long does that typically take? I realize it will vary by dog, but there has to be some kind of rule of thumb.

I'm curious because it seems like an odd training technique, but I don't have a better alternative, so...I'm curious.

sparky_mcsparksalot4 karma

Not OP, or dog trainer, but have a graduate degree in Behavior Analysis. You wouldn't take the vest off when/after the dog pees; that would actually teach him that peeing ends work time. I suspect OP is simply not using punishment techniques and instead using positive techniques to shape the dog's behavior (for example, praising the dog when he pees while not working, and over time and repetition, the dog learns to pee while not working). Hope that answers your question :)

poshpoodle4 karma

Yep, that's exactly what I do. I know his pee/poop schedule so I take him out when I know he needs to go and take the vest off before I leave the building I'm in so he can (hopefully) distinguish the difference. So far, he's pretty much learned not to pee in it, but occasionally on the walk to campus he'll poop while wearing it, but he'll learn!

Applekami54 karma

Hey, i have a 2 year old little boy who is Autistic and he could not talk only babble and even that was mamama at 18/19 months old myself and family were really worried on how behind he was even though we knew it was from his Autism but then we got a Bichon Frise and within a few days my son built up an Immediate bond with this dog, he would sit and stroke her all day long and babble to her and then low and behold my son talks! he talks extremely well now to the point people comment on how well and forward his speech is and i honestly believe it it from this dog we have, he does not eat either never has only picks but lately he does this thing where he will eat a few bites a meal and the only reason he does this?

He shares his food with his best friend porshca (the dog) he gives her a bit then he has a bite then she has a bit then he has a bit and that is the only way we get food down him, she calms him through his meltdowns and he helps to feed her n take her out which gets him out through a park without so much worry where as without her he has meltdowns from walking a different way or kids being there etc etc but with the dog there hes a different child.

My Question however is how do i go about getting porscha to become an official Autism Dog? where she would be able to come with us into shops and to town and buses instead of at the moment i am restricted of where i can take her with my son because shes only a "pet" even though she does amazing things for my son, i don't want to go and get a different "autism" dog as the bond Eli has with Porsh is too strong and she does everything a Autism dog can do but i don't have a clue how to go about getting her trained and given the official label and also so she would be able to make life easier for him with public transport and every day life outside the home?. Thanks :)

poshpoodle24 karma

Aww, I love hearing those kinds of stories! They are so heartwarming and incredible! Porscha sounds like an amazing little pooch. In terms of your question, I'm really not sure how you could go about certifying her as an "autism" dog. However, depending on where you live, you can potentially go to your child's doctor and have them recommend Porscha as a companion animal to your son. After that, again depending on where you live, you may have to go through other certification processes in order to get her the vest and permission to enter certain buildings. I wish I could be more help, I'm sorry! I feel like if you google something along the lines of "certification for a companion animal in _____ (your city)" you might be able to get some answers. Best of luck to you and your amazing son and his dog! :)

Davkaus26 karma

TIL, service dogs aren't just for blind people and the police.

Mackhasarack36 karma

There is a guy in my school who is paralyzed from the waist down, and his upper body is partially paralyzed. He has a service dog, and his life has DRASTICALLY changed in the past few months. the dog will jump and hit the button for doors to open, pick up his phone and place it back on his chair if it falls, and can go into the fridge to grab him food/drinks if it is placed in the right spot. Its truely amazing the things that a dog can be taught.

poshpoodle11 karma

That's amazing! I'm happy that guy has such an amazing companion and helper

TheMasque24 karma

Are poodles well suited to being service animals?

poshpoodle45 karma

Poodles are hypoallergenic which means people who are allergic to dogs could use them. However, some people still find themselves allergic even to poodles so it really depends on the person. In terms of the actual work, I believe poodles are incredibly smart and intuitive. I know it sounds kinda weird, but sometimes I'll talk to Virgil and he'll look at me like he understands. I think thats a really important characteristic for a service dog going to a child with autism.

jhammy9622 karma

What's the number 1 thing to remember when training dogs?

poshpoodle42 karma

Patience and persistence!

DonkeyDongRacing26 karma

But those are two things

poshpoodle68 karma

Yes. Yes they are.

MasBlanketo17 karma

Were you specially trained to, well, train these dogs or was it something that came naturally to you?

poshpoodle14 karma

I never got any formal training from the organization or anywhere else. I've had 5 dogs throughout my life and trained every one of them so I learned over the years what works and what doesn't.

footloosebacon15 karma

Thanks for doing the AMA. Is this something that you do as a career? How much would a fully trained service dog sell for?

poshpoodle25 karma

You're welcome! I did this AMA in hopes of spreading awareness about the organization I volunteer with (so no, this is not a career) and to spread awareness about autism (autism awareness day tomorrow, btw!). I'm not sure how much one of the autism service dogs would sell for. I'd say it really depends on the breed and how much veterinary care went into it while it was being raised. The organization provides us with food, grooming and vet care.

dag197923 karma


poshpoodle9 karma

Every organization is different. ADS actually donates the dog to the family, but you have to be living in certain parts of Ontario where they have the organization set up. ADS also continues to provide the family with food.

fozzyfreakingbear12 karma

And is it really sad to let them go, or are you good with the understanding that what you're doing is really great for others, and they'll be in a good home?

poshpoodle35 karma

I will have Virgil for about 12-18 months. It's already been about 5 months and I have to admit, he's like my baby. He goes everywhere with me...classes, restaurants, cinemas, etc, because he's a certified working dog (although still in training). Its like having a toddler. Giving him back will be bitter-sweet. I love him so much and part of me wishes I could have him forever, but I also know that he won't only change one child's life, he's going to change a whole family's life for the better. I just hope his future forever family will keep me updated.

fozzyfreakingbear11 karma

This may be a bit morbid, but have you ever dealt with any accounts of a dog being abused after being sent to a new home?

poshpoodle19 karma

Personally, no. But I think about it whenever I think about his potential future home. The organization screens the families before giving them the dog though, so I hope they're able to filter out the loving homes from the abusive ones. ADS also stays in touch with the family throughout the time they have the dog because they continue to provide the family with dog food.

lzsmith8 karma

What brand of dog food do they provide?

poshpoodle4 karma

They are sponsored by Eukanuba and so we are provided with Eukanuba food.

MagnoMurmure7 karma


feckinfritos20 karma

Tasks for Autism Service Dogs

I personally do not like the idea of pairing service dogs with children. I am a service dog handler. I have a PTSD service dog. He alerts me to panic attacks, will guide me to a safe destination when navigating crowds (which tend to be triggers for me), provides tactile stimulation when I am dissociating, and remind me to take medication when I feed him (he retrieves a bag with my meds when he sees me preparing his food.) Even though he has improved the quality of my life dramatically, it is a LOT of responsibility and a huge commitment to have a service dog. I am not afraid to admit that he has added a different level of difficulty to my life, however the benefits he provides me outweigh that difficulty dramatically. I don't know if the same could be said for a child.

IMO, many parents do not fully realize the commitment and responsibility they are adding to their lives by bringing in a dog, even if it is a highly trained dog. Many parents think that the dog will be like another caretaker. It's unrealistic and unfair to the dog. At the end of the day, the dog is still a dog. This article sums up my feelings perfectly: Very Young Children and Dogs

poshpoodle2 karma

You are very right. A lot of the times, the dogs are returned to the organization because the families don't realize that this is indeed not a nanny for their child, but an animal that still requires training and the same level of care any dog requires. ADS goes through an intensive screening process and makes sure the family is well aware of the responsibilities attached to owning the service dog.

poshpoodle13 karma

Essentially Virgil (and other autism service dogs) help the child socialize, keep them safe and provide comfort for a child with autism when it can be really hard for someone with the condition to communicate. The child will be allowed the bring the dog to school, so he'll go from the "weird kid with autism" to the "really cool kid with the dog that I wanna have a playdate with NOW!" If the child has a history of bolting when presented with triggers (ex. loud noises, large groups of people), the dog and kid will be tethered together when out in public so the dog can stop the child from running out into the street or getting lost or hurt. Lastly, like I mentioned before, it can be really hard for someone with autism to communicate, so Virgil will be there to share in the child's excitement and happiness and to comfort the child when he is upset when nobody else can really understand how the child is feeling.

bronzeart6 karma

I want to thank you for your work. My niece has a high-functioning autism disorder, but she absolutely breaks down in public situations. Going to the grocery store, unless it is strictly regimented and controlled, can be a nightmare. Meeting new people is near impossible, and sitting through a church service, school presentation or community picnic all have the ingredients for a total public meltdown. When the family goes to a restaurant (which is rare), my sisiter or her husband takes turns sitting in the car and talking to her, since she is unable to cope with the restaurant environment. She recently met her service dog, Pearl, and instantly connected!! With Pearl's help, she has been able to go with her family to a restaurant, attend a Sunday morning church service, and be introduced to new people. She is eleven years old now, and will have Pearl as her companion through what may be the most difficult transitional period of her life, the teen years through young-adult-hood. All of this was made possible by a trainer like yourself. I know you are aware, but I just wanted you to know how much the families (even extended families) appreciate the great work you do to help our loved ones. All the best to you!

poshpoodle3 karma

Thank you so so sooooo much!!!!! I love hearing these kinds of things because it just goes to show that Virgil will not only change the child's life, but the whole family's for the better. Good luck to your sister and her amazing sounding daughter and service dog! :)

SecretSexyConnor6 karma

What's his favorite toy?

poshpoodle4 karma

My socks.

thus-sung6 karma

I know his brother Victor!

poshpoodle3 karma

Aww, I've seen pictures of Victor! They're both such cuties! Tell Victor Virgil says hello!

danfive5555 karma

Do you have a list of commands for your dog to master? Can you share? I literally ran out of things to train my dog to do.

poshpoodle9 karma

Hmm, well aside from the basics (sit, stay, come, paw, down, etc) Virgil knows "go to bed" which is exactly what it sounds like. If he's in the way or underfoot, or if I have people over that don't particularly like dogs, I'll tell him to go to bed and he goes lol. He also knows "go away" which I tell him to do when he's begging me for food. In the works right now is "touch" where I'm trying to get him to touch his nose to the palm of my hand, but I'm hoping eventually I can teach him to touch things like elevator buttons, or touch his nose to the fridge to close it, and touch his nose to a bell when he wants to be let out.

himynameis_3 karma

how did you teach him to go to bed? Wouldn't he not know What "go" or "bed" means?

poshpoodle5 karma

Well when I first got him, every night before going to bed, I'd simply say "Virgil, time for BED" and say the word 'bed' in a deeper voice. When he'd walk into my room and go straight to his bed, I'd reward him. Eventually I would just say "time for BED" no matter what time it was and as soon as he heard the word 'bed' he'd rush to his and wait for a treat. Now I just need to say the word 'bed' in a sentence and he goes.

urbangentlman5 karma

How much do service dogs run? I want one both as a pet and one that I can take with me to Children's Medical when I visit

feckinfritos22 karma

That's not a service dog, that's a therapy dog. Service dogs are trained in a task to assist a disabled person. A therapy dog visits with people to make them feel better.

If you have a dog with a good temperament, and already knows the basics (sit, down, stay, come, walk nice on a leash) it usually costs very little to get them tested and certified as a therapy dog. TDI and Delta Society are two national orgs. There are also local orgs you can look into as well which offer more support and sponsor visits.

poshpoodle9 karma

Well, that answers that.

Floppy4545 karma

Whenever I see a service dog being trained in public, I get the overwhelming urge to go and interact with them because they are generally the nicest, most well behaved, best taken care of dogs I can find. Do you discourage the public from interacting with the dogs when they have their vest on?

poshpoodle3 karma

Actually, Virgil is allowed to socialize with people with or without his vest. However, make sure you ask permission if you ever see a service dog in training because they may not be allowed to socialize in the vest anymore. Also, if people are going to pet him, I let them know not to do a high, squeaky, excited voice, as this excites Virgil a lot and causes him to jump up on them, which I am currently trying to train him not to do.

nickelbackcage4 karma

What dogs are the easiest to train?

poshpoodle8 karma

Well, my first dog, who is 13 now, is the exact same breed as Virgil (chocolate standard poodle) and he was extremely intelligent and eager to learn and be trained. I've also had a yorkie-poo who happened to be a little bastard, but enjoyed learning circus tricks, like balancing on my knee and such. I also have a rescue mutt who we think is a rotty-chow chow mix and in the 5 years we've had her, she's mastered sit, stay, down and touch (touches her nose to your palm)...I think her brain only has a 4-command maximum. Since I've only had experience training these dogs, I couldn't give an expert opinion on the easiest dogs to train, but in my personal opinion, I'd say poodles (and poodle variations) are easy as they are very eager to learn.

Schultzz_3 karma

What car show did you go to help raise money for A.D.S?

poshpoodle5 karma

It was a car show in London, Ontario. I don't remember the name of it but ADS had an event called "Smash a Car for Charity" where you could donate $5 and get to smash an old limo with a sledgehammer. It was a very popular booth lol.

ILikeGeography3 karma

what kind of dogs are used?

poshpoodle9 karma

Mostly labs and golden retrievers, but poodles and goldendoodles and labradoodles are used when they're available, too. I'm not sure how other organizations get their dogs, but ADS gets donations from breeders and they're also working on their own breeding program too.

is_a_jerk3 karma

Do dogs ever fail the training program?

poshpoodle6 karma

Yes it happens. At the very end of his training (I train him for a year and then he goes on to advanced training for 4-6 months) he will have to meet a very strict criteria for behavior, temperament and health and he is then the service dog must also pass a comprehensive test set by Assistance Dogs International (ADI). If he passes, he will be given to his new home with the autistic child. If he doesn't pass, I will be offered to buy him from them (which I totally would).

jalepenoface2 karma

What methods have you found to be the most successful at training a dog how to stay, heel and basically LISTEN, especially during distractions? I have a hard time getting my 6mo black lab to calm down and focus on me when we're out walking, at a park, etc. but at home she's a damn good listener/pup. Any advice?

poshpoodle3 karma

themooninthesky gave some pretty helpful advice. The main thing that I've taught all my dogs over the years that helped build the foundation for successful training is "look at me," or simply just "look". This is command that you can rely on to get your dogs attention and alert it that may be following up with another command.

To train him, like themooninthesky said, get a treat that has high value. I personally used hot dogs. Show the dog you have the treat, hold it between your eyes and say "(dogs name) look at me". This will teach the dog to have eye contact with you, and eventually you can just say to the dog "(dog's name) look!" and they will look directly into your eyes and know you want their attention. Once they have mastered "look" you should start using the look command and follow up with another basic command, such as sit, or down, so they learn that they are going to perform a command after you have told them to look at you.

TheOneTrueCripple1 karma

I am a paraplegic who has been considering getting a service dog, so I would like to say thank you for the time you take with these life-changing friends.

What would you say are the main differences in training a service dog for autistic persons vs. disabled persons?

poshpoodle2 karma

Well, I've never trained a service dog for disabled persons, but I'd assume that for an autistic person, the dog needs to be a lot more emotionally in-tune with the person as they need to be able to assess potential triggers for the person so they don't react negatively and risk hurting themselves or others (or even the dog). For a disabled person, I'd say its probably more about the physical training. The dog would need to be their fingers, hands, legs, arms, and feet more often than they would for someone with autism so the training would probably vary in that sense.

vilest1 karma

OP I thought you were a dog as well. I am disappointed.

poshpoodle1 karma

I'm sorry to disappoint you. Truly, I am.

thisishow1 karma

how does training go? do you feel like it just removes personality from the dogs? or do they still have their own personalities etc?

poshpoodle2 karma

All dogs love to learn! Training actually brings out the best in all dogs, as they feel safe and secure because they have a "leader of the pack". Virgil and the other service dogs in training I've met through ADS all have their own very unique and lovable personalities that make them the amazing dogs they are. For example, Virgil is probably the most affectionate dog I know and no amount of training will ever change that. He can sit, stay, come and perform other commands like a boss, but when he sees you're inviting him into your lap for a snuggle, he's pleased as punch and takes any opportunity he can to cuddle!

TipMcVenus1 karma

Do service dogs ever to be just dogs or are they always on duty? My dog plays, runs around and acts a fool. Do they do the same or something similar?

poshpoodle2 karma

Lol yes a service dog still gets the chance to be a dog when his vest is OFF. When the vest is on, shit gets done. When the vest is off, shit gets fun!

girlwiththe_zebratat1 karma

How does one get into the type of training you do? I've always wanted to, but I haven't the faintest idea of how to get started..

poshpoodle2 karma

Well I'd see other people on my campus training service dogs, so when I got my own place this year (last year I lived in residence) all I did was google "service dog training in London, Ontario" and came across a bunch of sites that needed volunteer trainers.

Dewy_Wanna_Go_There-1 karma

If I trained my dog to recognize the scent of cannabis and fetch it for me, does it legally become mine? Fair and square, no takesies backsies?

poshpoodle5 karma

Well, you may want to check out this article before you put the effort into training him

the__republican-13 karma

If you were a pink frosted sprinkle doughnut, what would you be?

poshpoodle5 karma

Well, I guess I'd be diabeetus.