A guiding calm: How Autism Assistance dogs work

By Kate Hassett

A guiding calm: How Autism Assistance dogs work
A woman bravely demonstrates how assistance dogs help in controlling the effects of ASD.

Danielle Jacobs, 24, made headlines this week after posting a video of her dog calming her during a ‘meltdown’ associated with autism spectrum disorder.

Samson, her dog, has been trained to respond to behaviours that are typical of Jacobs’ involuntary reactions. These reactions can range anywhere from panic attacks to self-harm.

“When I have a meltdown, I often have self-injurious behaviour and I often self-harm.”

The video depicts Samson raising his body and stopping Jacobs from repeatedly hitting herself in the head and chest. However, the dog is not comforting Jacobs, as it may appear, instead he is using his force to block the movements that are hurting Jacobs.

“He responds on action instead of emotion,” she said. “That’s how I trained him,” and train him she did.

Instead of appealing to an Assistance dog service, which is an option for many others, Jacob’s adopted Samson and proceeded to train him herself.

Whilst she had experience training dogs in regular obedience methods, Jacobs had to ask her mother what her ‘meltdowns’ looked like so she could train Samson accordingly.

The 60kg dog uses his weight to bring Jacobs down to the ground which acts as a therapeutic action, helping her to becoming conscious of what she is doing.

“His weight has a calming effect,” she explained. “He makes me acknowledge what’s going on – he kind of snaps me out of it.”

Autism service dogs are lesser known than those who aide visually impaired owners, but they can be incredibly helpful to children and adults alike suffering with ASD. They can often help their owners feel calmer in social situations, aide in more regular sleeping patters, and cope with over-stimulation.

“The reason why I posted this video is because that adult [you may see] on the floor kicking and screaming and that kid in the grocery store crying over a toy is [experiencing something they can’t control],” Jacobs said. “The kid in the grocery store doesn’t need to be smacked or have harder discipline. His tantrum is something he can’t control. The wires in his brain are all twisted, he can’t communicate and say, ‘Hey, I’m angry.'”





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