Jackie Schuld Art Therapy Blog

Tips for Adjusting to a New Dog When You’re Autistic

Adopting a dog brought challenges to me that I wasn’t expecting.


The difficulties are primarily due to me being an autistic person, such as the loss of routine, overstimulation, hyper-observation, overthinking, overcaring, etc. I shared about all of them in my previous essay The Difficulties of Adopting a Dog as an Autistc Person.


As I’ve worked to adapt my life to my dog, Egon, I’ve had difficulty finding resources that provide ideas, solutions, or support for adapting to life with a dog as an autistic individual.


I’m certainly not a dog trainer or expert on the subject, but I’ll share what has helped me in hope that it helps someone else facing a similar problem.


Daycare. I found a local daycare that does not require a reservation. This has helped me to take time to myself at home and get errands done. It has also helped me mentally to know there is a place I can take him if I need it.


Online dog training course. I chose a course in dog reactivity provided by Spirit Dog Training. What has helped me the most about the course is understanding more about dog behavior. I now know what are the minimum requirements for a dog in terms of stimulation, and when it’s ok to train to be calm. The course has also given me other tools to help my dog be entertained, such as scatter feeding and chew toys.


Dog parks. Egon loves dog parks and is able to get out his energy. I also like the casual conversation it affords me. There are definitely drawbacks to dog parks though, so I suggest you research and get to know your dog really well before deciding to go.


A white fluffy dog is lying down on the porch
Egon on the porch

Porch. I live in an apartment, so I do not have the luxury of a doggie door or yard. However, I do have a small porch. Egon loves to sit outside and look at people. It also gives me a break from him.


Trainer. I previously worked with a trainer that did not work (you can read about that here), and now I am trying a new one to help me adjust to life with Egon. It’s helpful to have straightforward directions about how to handle specific situations.


Cuddle time. Egon came from an outdoor hoarding situation, so he has a difficult time feeling comfortable with physical interaction. He is extremely attached to me, but he often prefers to just be in the same room or look at me. I’ve been practicing cuddle time, where I pick him up and hold him on my lap. I like the physical sensation and I hope it will lead to more of it in the future.


Training time. The time we spend together training on specific tasks, Egon really loves. I enjoy this time with him as well. It also does help with specific behaviors. For example, for a while he wouldn’t come up the stairs after our walks together and we worked on this behavior.


Making mornings about me too. For a while I resented how much Egon disrupted my morning routine. I’ve recently found ways to make the morning about me as well. Instead of taking him on a walk first thing in the morning, I do about five minutes of tasks to get my day off to a nice start, such as putting a pot of coffee on, warming my blanket by the heater and ensuring my writing area is clear for when I return.


Reading books. I haven’t found a book I like enough to recommend, but I have picked up different things from them. As an autistic individual, I learn best through reading, and just having a book gives me hope that it will have some helpful insights.


Intentional time to myself. Given how attached Egon is to me, he wants to be with me always. I used to accommodate that, but now I take baths by myself with the door closed (it took a period of me tolerating his whimpers outside the door), close the door when he is on the porch, and take him to daycare on occasion.


Releasing fear of others’ judgments. I take Egon to my therapy sessions with clients. Whenever he would misbehave in the slightest way, I worried that others would judge me for his behavior. My therapy supervisor suggested I use these moments as information - see how my clients respond and use those moments therapeutically. That dramatically shifted the weight I felt.


Off-Leash hiking. This is probably my absolute favorite thing to do with Egon. I love to watch him explore and he is so good about returning that it is an enjoyable time for both of us.


Buying appropriate clothes. One of the hardest adjustments for me was going out into the cold first thing in the dark morning. The sensory change was difficult for me, so I invested in easy-to-put-on outdoor clothing that is soft, warm, and comfortable.


Meeting other dogs. One of the most difficult aspects of having a new dog who is also my first dog in 20 years, is not knowing what’s normal and what’s not (similar to trying to figure out humans). It has been helpful to see how other dogs behave and how others treat their dogs. It has made me more grateful for Egon’s personality and behaviors, as well as put things into context.


If there are other resources, tips, or tricks you’ve encountered, I’d love to know.

 

I provide art therapy for autistic individuals.


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