By Louisa Rux
If you’ve ever seen a woman walking around ACA with a large white dog (sporting a green vest) in tow, then it may interest you to know that this is Jill Mohr. Jill Mohr is the Assistant Director at ACA, and, in addition to many other jobs, is a service dog trainer for the Autism Service Dogs of America (ASDA).
Every one to three months, Mrs. Mohr is given a new dog to watch over and train. Mohr claims, “…as soon as I turn in a dog, they (the ASDA) give me a new one…that I get to bond with and train.”
According to Mohr, socialization is vital in the training of an autism service dog. “During the first two years [of training], there’s a lot of socialization, getting them calm in classroom environments, getting them used to other people, other animals.” Mohr claims that her job at ACA also aids in the training of her assigned dogs. “They [the ASDA] loves that I work in a school,” she says since the dogs are exposed to many social interactions and situations that they will eventually be placed in once they work with a child.
Another huge part of a service dog’s job is to keep their child safe in everyday situations that may prove to be dangerous. The dogs will often have to be tethered to a child to keep him or her safe. “One of the risks is that in a store or if they’re in a parking lot they’ll just run off, bolt,” Mohr says. The child is given a waistband which is attached to the dog and has a handle so that the child may hold onto the dog. Mohr claims, “Where they [the child] might not like holding the hand of their mom or their dad, they usually like holding the handle of the dog, so it’s a great way to keep the child safe and keep the child with them.”
Not only do the beloved animals provide physical support, but they can also provide emotional support for their child. “If the child becomes very upset or anxious, the dog knows how to apply pressure points to the child…” as the gentle pressure grounds and calms down the child. Mohr continued on to state,“There are some children who will…basically have an episode where…they’re so emotionally distraught or anxious that they can’t function, and the dog will come and lay their body across the child, giving them that gentle pressure to calm them down.”
The dogs can also help autistic children build relationships and get to know people, according to Mohr. She claims that often people will come up to her and say that before having their service dog, no one would talk to them or approach them. However, Mohr states, “…once they had a service dog, people would come and say, ‘Hey, can I pet your dog?’ or ‘What’s your dog like?’” which provides an opportunity for autistic children to be able to interact with people. “…it’s a way for some children with autism to be able to open up and have some new relationships that they hadn’t had before in the past.”
Although Mohr does not get to have one-on-one interactions with the young children that the dogs go with, she can still see how they help the lives of the children through stories on Facebook.
“ Three years ago, I had Carma (a golden retriever)…and I remember two months after she left, the family had a picture of her in Disneyland on one of the teacups with the little boy. Carma looked a bit sick,” Mohr said with a laugh. “But the family was saying, ‘we could never have done this before with our child, without Carma.’ And Carma was just that solid rock that allowed the child to be able to have that sense of calm and enjoy that Disneyland experience.”
“If you go on their website,” Mohr says about the ASDA, “you can see all these incredible stories of how these dogs are changing the lives of these children.” You can access their website by this link: http://autismservicedogsofamerica.com and their Facebook by this link: https://www.facebook.com/autismservicedogsofamerica/ .
Becoming a trainer is very easy, according to Mohr. “All you have to be willing to do is have a dog 24/7 in your life, and be willing to go to either weekly or monthly training sessions where they train you to train the dog.”
Mohr, Jill. “Service Dog Training.” Personal interview. 15 Feb. 2017.
“FAQ: Training– Basics.” Psychiatric Service Dog Partners. N.p., n.d. Web. 2017.
“Service Dog Training.” PAWS Training Centers. N.p., 2017. Web. 6 Feb. 2017.
“Training.” Autism Service Dogs of America. N.p., 2010. Web. 5 Feb. 2017.
“Facebook.” Security Check Required. N.p., n.d. Web. 11 Apr. 2017.