Friday, 3 February 2023

The Yogi Awards: Team Henry

What an exciting start to 2023 for Team Henry! 

Late last week we received an email that said that not only had Team Henry, aka Henry and L, had been nominated for the Yogi Award, but also that they were receiving a medallion for Courage, Resilience and Determination. In other words they are being awarded the Yogi Award!

The Yogi Award is an annual award that is run by Animal Therapies Limited. The award recognises the power that human animal interactions have in the journey to greater wellbeing for the human member of the team. The award recognises the courage, resilience and determination that the team displays every day.

This year the award is going to be presented at the 2023 Animal-Assisted Services Conference here in Brisbane.

To say that we're super proud of Team Henry is an under statement.

Henry is just amazing and L has come so far with Henry by his side. L shows Courage, Resilience and Determination every single day.

Usually there is only one overall winner of the Yogi Award, however this year we will be sharing the spotlight with another young assistance dog team - Team Whoopi and his child Erika-Bela.

So very proud right now ❤️❤️

Tuesday, 10 January 2023

Assistance Dogs 101: Intelligent Disobedience

Now you've probably read the title of this post and thought, what on earth is that? How can an assistance dog be disobedient and intelligent at the same time????

Well, it's quite an amazing skill for an assistance dog to develop. At times, while an assistance dog is work mode, there are some skills, commands or tasks that we may not want the dog to obey. A really great example is a Guide Dog - they are trained in intelligent disobedience during their intense training before being placed. If the dog is given an unsafe command from their handler, for example to walk out onto a busy road, they are taught to disobey the command.

When a dog is taught intelligent disobedience they are taught to use their own judgement and not respond to the command or cue given by their handler if it is not safe to do so, ie: walking out into oncoming traffic.

In terms of cognitive thinking, an assistance dog who is taught an intelligent disobedient skill is using their cognitive behaviour and/or as they are thinking from their handlers perspective. An assistance dog, such as a guide dog, could easily obey the command and walk into oncoming traffic, but from the handlers perspective this is quite dangerous. The dog is able to understand this and interpret the environment around it at that given time.

During Henry's training he was taught an intelligent disobedient skill in that he was taught to ground himself when sitting at the edge of a road. As L holds his own leash that is attached to Henry, if L went to walk off without Henry being given the command to move forward, Henry will ground himself  to keep L safe.

We've witnessed this skill a number of times since Henry was placed with us back in 2021. The most impressive time was when we were on a family outing on the Sunshine Coast. We had just got out of our car and began to explore when L started walking towards the road. Henry pulled myself towards L, then got between L and the road and gently began nudging L back onto the grassed area. All without being given a command.

More recently we have seen both Henry and Alaska display intelligent disobedient skills, both without being taught.

Late last year we were up at a very large shopping centre with Alaska - it was Henry's day off as he'd had a busy week. Both L and Daddy Superhero were off having haircuts and I was doing some public access training with Alaksa.

Unbeknownst to me, my anxiety levels were rising and Alaska was picking up on the levels. I initially thought that Alaska was misbehaving as as we were walking, she would walk around the front of my body and stop in our path. What Alaska was in fact doing was showing her intelligent disobedience skills be alerting me that I needed to stop and take a break. I found a place to sit and Alaksa immediately lay over my lap to give deep pressure therapy. At the time I didn't realise just how amazing that skill was for Alaska. Now? Wow!

Henry has also shown us his intelligent disobedience skills late last year, While Daddy Superhero was in hospital recovering from his open heart surgery, Henry would regularly push myself, or one of the little superheroes to our couch at home and as soon as we'd sit down. Henry would lay on our laps providing deep pressure therapy.

The first occasion that Henry did this to me, I was attempting to give him the command of place, to redirect him to a mat in our lounge room. He was definitely disobeying that command as he recognised that I needed to sit.

And if witnessing an assistance dog showing it's intelligent disobedient skills isn't amazing in itself, the intelligent disobedient skills have no effect whatsoever on the dogs willingness to obey commands.

Henry, and Alaska, as well as other assistance dogs seem to readily understand that the refusal response to a command is expected and accepted of them when there is a potential hazard or obstacle in the path. For a dog, that is some really impressive cognitive thinking!

Friday, 16 December 2022

Team Alaska!

☆☆☆ ALASKA IS ONE ☆☆☆ 

This little pupper turns one today. She's a floofball of energy who loves to play but also loves to work.

While Henry has been the most amazing Assistance Dog role model and big brother to Alaska, Alaska has taught Henry how to be a puppy!!

She's cheeky when out of coat, but super serious in coat.

Alaska has already made a huge difference to O. Alaska also regularly alerts myself and Scott Petrey when we need to take breaks. She's also showing her intelligent disobedience skills, by stopping O (and us) when she detects changes in our VOC!!

And her public access skills are spot on, so the next phase is to make her bomb proof when we're out and about ❤️

#teamalaska #autismassistancedog

Tuesday, 22 November 2022

What does brave look like?


What does brave look like? This.

Two little superheroes who are putting one foot in front of the other and getting back to their usual routines.

These two little superheroes have had a couple of huge weeks where they have experienced every emotion from extreme sadness to extreme happiness and every emotion in between.

The first week that Daddy Superhero was in hospital having his life saving (literally) heart surgery, being in ICU, then being transferred onto the cardiac ward was like a very bad dream and none of us really knew what we were feeling. It was a very surreal feeling.

Last week was as difficult as the first week, the reality of just how severe and life threatening the diagnosis was, hit home in a huge way. As did knowing that if Daddy Superhero didn't have surgery, our lives could be very different.

Last week was a "school can't" week. Neither little superheroes or myself wanted to face the world. We didn't want to people, other than going to visit our superhero in hospital. They physically couldn't go to school last week, their anxiety was too high to function outside of our home.

This week is a "school try" week. Both little superheroes are still coming to terms with what has happened over the past two weeks. They're both still talking through their emotions and thoughts. And they're both trying to go back to school - both schools have been just amazing in providing support to them and us.

It may be some time before we get back to our new normal, but we won't give up.

#autismheroes #littlesuperheroes #cardiacsurvivor

Saturday, 12 November 2022

Team Henry: Expectation versus Reality - So much more than just an Assistance Dog!

As well as being L's Autism Assistance Dog, Henry assists L in many other ways!

Shopping trips used to be a nightmare for L – the sensory overload from shopping centres is enormous. Now, they are a breeze with Henry by L’s side. Anytime during a shopping trip that L, and at times O, begins to feel overwhelmed, he and Henry find a spot to have lap lays and cuddles. Prior to Henry, shopping trips usually ended in a meltdown. We haven’t had one meltdown while out shopping. Even Christmas shopping was an easy outing.

Haircuts. L has naturally curly, think ringlets, hair but due to his sensory processing difficulties, he dislikes his hair being brushed so regular hair cuts are a must. As L doesn’t like people touching his hair or head, hair cuts are a sensory nightmare for him and can take up to a few hours for a simple trim. Now with Henry, a haircut takes less then 20 minutes. Henry is a bit of a hit at the barbers too and no longer munches on the hair treats on the floor!

Hospital and medical appointments. Even though we are on a first name basis with the medical staff at four emergency departments, L struggles with hospital visits and medical appointments in general. Henry has been a godsend and each time we’ve had an appointment or a visit to the emergency department, L has been able to stay calm. He still reverted to being non-verbal, but he was calm.

Lockdowns, isolation and flooding! Well, what can I say. The last few years have been a challenge for everyone. The first few lockdowns prior to Henry were a real struggle. But having Henry to help L, and O, to self regulate has been awesome. So far, because goodness knows what is going to happen in the future, we have been through one covid lockdown, three covid isolation periods and the February flooding, with no meltdowns. Henry is so super calm, that he causes both little superheroes to remain calm.

Family outings have always been tricky for both little superheroes. Prior to Henry being placed, our family outings wouldn’t last more then a few hours and they were usually to the same places so that both kids wouldn’t become too overwhelmed. If we were even thinking of going to a new place, we would have to give both kids at least a weeks notice so that we could prepare them for the outing.

Since Henry, our family outings have become much easier, more frequent and have become longer. We’ve become more adventurous and have visited places that we haven’t been to previously. We’ve done a few surprise outings, which we could not have done prior to Henry being placed.

Australia Zoo was our first successful outing. We lasted roughly five hours and the only reason we left is due to both kids complaining of sore feet. Neither entered into sensory or emotional overload. I may have become teary later that evening because of how amazing Henry was. 

We've visited two of the theme parks on the Gold Coast in one day - this is something that we couldn't have done before Henry.

Now when we are on outings, if either of the kids begin to feel overwhelmed, Henry steps in with lap lays, overs and nuzzles. And not once have we had to end an family outing early due to one of both kids becoming overwhelmed. Sealife on the Sunshine Coast, a full day school excursion for L, a full day at the Gold Coast Supernova convention to name a few, all have gone exceptionally well.

Even a simple outing such as Santa photos was near impossible prior to Henry being placed. Our 2021 Surfing Santa photos were a breeze for L and we had to constantly remind him that we had to leave!

L is responsible for looking after Henry on a daily basis, under our supervision of course. He feeds Henry, brushes him, picks up Henry’s poops, plays with him, helps to wash Henry and everything else in between. This is developing L's skills a whole range of areas.

Henry is L's furry sidekick and as long as L always needs him, Henry will be by his side.

Thursday, 10 November 2022

Team Henry: My Rock


While my rock has been battling and kicking goals in ICU this week, this boi has been my rock.

Henry has been showing just how amazing he really is by supporting both little superheroes and myself.

And he's been showing his intelligent disobedience skills!! Henry has deliberately pushed me to our couch at home so that I'd sit down and then would lay his head on my lap giving me some much needed deep pressure therapy ❤️❤️

Henry is L's Autism Assistance Dog, but he knows when I need help too.

Oh, and he is a hit at the hospital. First making friends with all the staff in ICU and today, making friends on his Daddy's ward ❤️❤️

#teamhenry #smartpuphenry #smartpups #autismassistancedogs

Friday, 4 November 2022

Team Henry: Expectations versus Reality - Companionship.

 Our expectations

Just the pure companionship for L is another aspect that we were looking forward to with having Henry placed with our family. Having a pup that he could say was his, as a conversation starter with our family and friends and other people that we come into contact with on a regular basis.

The reality

L has always struggled with communication. When he is overwhelmed or when he meets new people, he reverts to being non-verbal and will use key word signing or sounds to communicate his needs.

Henry has been amazing in calming L to the point that he is able to communicate using speech.

When are out and about, if L is calm, Henry is a conversation starting point for him with new people. This is a huge first for L, and it is all thanks to Henry. The focus is taken off of Lachlan and onto what Henry does and the tricks that he can do!

Both little superheroes have complex needs, and as a result regular medical appointments are a must.

Before Henry, L would shut-down and hide under chairs, tables, cupboards, anything that has a space underneath.

Now, with Henry by his side, L is able to self regulate enough to communicate via sounds or key word signing with the medical professionals. And with some, like our pediatrician who has built an amazing rapport with L, he will communicate verbally with them.