If you have a child with autism or other developmental disability, adding a dog to your home can be both challenging and hugely rewarding! The key is to find the right dog with the right training, so that the dog becomes a participating member of your family, and brings love and calm to a challenging environment!
Dogs vary in type, temperament, and level of training, just as children on the autism spectrum are each unique! It’s very important to decide whether you are looking for a pet or a service dog to help your child with autism. What are the differences?
In a nutshell, most dogs can reduce stress and provide a calming force. Studies show that just petting a dog can lower cortisol levels, reducing both stress and anxiety. So for those that have a family pet, you are probably already reaping some rewards. A pet dog can also help children learn independence if they have jobs caring for the pet, and can encourage exercise.
Service dogs are trained to perform specific tasks for a child and are trained to be an active participant. For the child who is having meltdowns due to sensory overload, unexpected changes in routine, or other stresses, the dog is trained to actually detect when these episodes may happen by being trained to sense a rise in the stress hormone cortisol. The dog then intervenes to prevent the meltdown and guide the child to a safe and calm environment and state, perhaps applying deep pressure to restore a sense of calm.
Service dogs can also help with kids who may tend to wander or bolt in a stressful situation. They can help with tasks such as dressing, keeping a child on routine, preventing an unwanted behavior, and other tasks that the individual may need.
For the high functioning child or young adult with autism, a service dog can also provide an appropriate conversation topic and therefore help with social integration.
It is also important that the dog is trained to be unresponsive to the many things happening in a wide variety of environments. The dog has a job to resist distractions and remain focused on their human.
Merlin’s Kids dogs can also be trained to “fade away” support as the child becomes more independent. It’s important to keep in mind that a service dog is never a substitute for a competent adult in the family; they are there to support the family and are trained for specific tasks to supplement your care. Once a dog is placed, ongoing training and support is crucial.
If you do not think you need a specifically trained service dog, but want to bring a pet into your family or already have a pet but things are getting challenging, reach out to our sister company, United K9 Professionals. These are the trainers we use for our service dogs, and they are great at fixing behavioral issues or getting a dog trained right from the start.
Do you offer classes for people to train service or therapy dogs?
If you want to make a difference in the lives of children and animals, Merlin’s Kids offers extensive training and certification in Natural Canine Behavior RehabilitationTM, Animal Adaptive TherapyTM, Therapeutic FacilitationTM, and Behavior InterventionTM, and Courtroom Cortisol Canines. Merlin's Kids also certifies a variety of disease detection dogsTM. We offer certifications for individuals to train their own dog to become a personal service dog, or a service dog-handler team for cortisol and disease detection.
If you would like to have a career in any of these areas, or help children with Autism, Asperger’s Syndrome, ASD, PVL, ADD, ADHD, CP, MD, CF, and spinal cord injuries, Veterans with PTSD, and others in need of service dogs, we CERTIFY dog-handler teams.
We offer courses in NJ, NY, MO, MD, TX, PA, and internationally. If you live in a location not listed, ask us about our
Once requirements are satisfied for each program, there will be a test and continuing education to ensure that each candidate has mastered the techniques. Once you join the Merlin's Kids family, there will be period follow-up, around-the-clock support, and growth in knowledge and ability.
For those interested in a rewarding future rehabilitating dogs with behavioral issues, Merlin’s Kids Partners with United K9 Professionals for an intensive course in Natural Canine Behavior Rehabilitation. This is true canine behavior, NOT obedience training.
to learn about foster expectations, filling out a foster application, and more. Upon completing the foster application, please follow up with our foster coordinator at email@example.com and she can give you more details.
Thank you for offering to help us save two lives at a time!
What and where is Merlin's Kids Canine Evaluation, Rehabilitation, and Training Center?
Merlin’s Kids Evaluation, Rehabilitation, and Training (ERT) Center houses dogs in training and serve as a sanctuary for families to visit where they can participate in interactive activities. Once a dog is trained and matched to a child, the Merlin’s Kids ERT Center is where the two will again meet for a final evaluation before the dog leaves with its new family.
long-term goal is to include a store, restaurant, library, and livery, all within a “wild west” themed environment in New Jersey to serve as a vacation spot for families with special needs.
Dr. Temple Grandin will graciously assist us in the design and planning of the interior and therapy rooms of the ranch where we are planning a state-of-the-art facility specifically designed for maximum learning and fulfillment. Several types of therapies including OT, PT, ST, hippotherapy (horses and riding), pet therapy, and others will be available and provided to families in need. The spacious log cabins in which families will reside will be complete with interactive walls and kid-friendly furnishings.
My loved one has special challenges. How do we apply for a service dog?
If you are interested in applying for a service dog for your loved one, please CLICK HERE FOR OUR APPLICATION. Read the page it in its entirety as there are important frequently asked questions answered.
Please wait at least 4 weeks for the application to be processed and reviewed by our specific volunteers.
You can follow up with firstname.lastname@example.org to check on the status of your application. Your loved one must be personally evaluated by our team before being considered an appropriate candidate for a service dog and on our waiting list.
What factors do you consider when evaluating a potential service dog recipient?
Our evaluation is based on several complex factors. We observe the potential recipients interaction with one of our service dog evaluators, typically Wyatt, and founder, Janice Wolfe. Considerations include:
What tasks the dog would have to be trained for to benefit the child
Safety of the child
Safety of the dog
Child's age and maturity
Family's ability to care for a dog
Family dynamic and lifestyle
The home environment
Child's physical and mental health challenges, both complexity and intensity
Potential flight risk
The child's interest (or lack thereof) in dogs
Organizational capacity/fundraising abilities
Please note: Some children have been deemed unsuitable service dog recipient candidates at initial evaluation, but have been reevaluated successfully as the child's condition or maturity has changed.
I applied for a service dog for my loved one. Now what?
Please be patient with us as we are inundated with requests and our applications are screened by several specific volunteers to ensure confidentiality.
If you are interested in fundraising or helping subsidize part of the expenses, please contact email@example.com to learn about fundraising opportunities.
What type of service animals do you provide?
Merlin’s Kids provides physical and emotional support dogs to both individuals and facilities.
PTSD dogs for disabled veterans
Life-saving cancer screening Disease Detection Dogs for firefighters.
Health-alert service dogs for diabetes and hypoglycemia, cerebral palsy, traumatic brain injury, seizure disorders, and more!
Autism spectrum disorder and other special challenges that are trained on the unique needs of the individual recipient.
Cortisol detection for in-school service dogs, Courtrooms for victims of violence and abuse, and more!
Who do you provide service animals for?
Merlin’s Kids provides service animals to children with Autism spectrum disorder and other special needs including spinal cord injuries and paralysis. Service animals are also provided to veterans of the United States military, both active duty and honorably discharged in order to assist them in their daily activities, and facility dogs for special needs schools, courtrooms, and more!
Where do you find your service dogs?
Merlin’s Kids rescues dogs from shelters and rescue organizations all across the US and internationally. Many of these dogs are pulled from euthanasia schedules, hence why our motto is "Shelter dog to service dog, saving two lives at a time".
The dogs are then behaviorally rehabilitated and trained to meet the specific needs of an individual or facility. Dogs that have passed the rigorous tests including temperament and health screenings are then trained and paired with an appropriate family or group.
How do you know how to match a dog to a person?
First, an expert team including Wyatt and Janice personally evaluates the potential recipient. If the child and family is deemed a good candidate for a service dog, then we search for the perfect dog to fit the family's lifestyle. Each dog is trained with and matched to the specific needs of the individual regardless of the nature, extent, and type(s) of disability. The family environment is also a primary consideration when placing a dog.
Does Merlin's Kids provide therapy animals?
Yes, we bring service and companion dogs to visit patients in hospitals, nursing homes, and other facilities to cheer them up.
Dogs can also be provided for home visits to enable those in need to find a sense of well-being and stability. The dog can be incorporated into occupational, physical, and speech therapies, fine and gross motor skills training.
Does Merlin's Kids offer "reading" dogs?
Yes, we bring dogs to visit schools to help children with learning disabilities read aloud without the embarrassment, fear of failure, or anxiety they may otherwise experience in front of other schoolmates or adults. Because dogs are not judgmental, a child will soon build confidence and self-esteem as he or she reads to the dog.
Do you also train and place companion animals?
Yes, Merlin’s Kids also rescues dogs to become companion animals for seniors and others with or without special needs. Some dogs are also adopted by special group homes.
What happens to dogs that do not pass the service dog test?
Dogs that do not successfully complete our rigorous rehabilitation and training programs are offered as pets to loving homes. Physical and behavioral health issues may disqualify a potential service dog.