Autism Assistance Service Dog:
Frequently Asked Questions

You have questions, we have answers!

We’ll try our best to answer your questions here.  If you don’t see your question(s), feel free to contact us.


Pawsitism Inc. is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that strives to enhance the lives of people with autism by providing highly trained autism assistance service dogs.  They provide on-going training and support to the family’s to ensure quality and successful partnerships. We provide our dogs and support services free of charge to recipients.

Pawsitism Inc. trains service dogs to assist children diagnosed with autism with daily activities and tasks.

There is no charge for a Pawsitism Inc. autism assistance service dog. Individual participants in our program are not responsible for any of the costs involved in raising and training each service dog. We do ask each family to raise $5,000 to go back into the organization for more service dogs to be raised and trained! This  money  needs to be raised by the time the family finishes their team certification through Pawsitism Inc.

  • Pawsitism Inc. is funded by private contributions from individuals, gifts from businesses, civic groups and service clubs, grants from corporations and foundations, and ongoing fundraising activities such as special events and mailings. Please visit our donate page to learn about the many way you can give.
  • Pawsitism Inc. is able to do what we do thanks to the support of our many volunteers. Our largest group of volunteers are our puppy raisers. Every puppy raiser volunteers their time to help raise and train a puppy so they can assist a child with autism.  We are so grateful for them. Learn more about our puppy raising program.

Pawsitism Inc. uses golden retrievers, goldendoodles, and bernedoodles. Most of our dogs come from select breeders within the state. These puppies are donated from these breeders to our training program each year.

We do not train any dogs outside of the Pawsitism Inc. service dog program. Please check out RUFF Academy Real Life Dog Training to be able to assist in evaluating and training a pet dog to become an assistance dog.

Pawsitism Inc. puppies are raised by volunteers that take them to puppy classes at RUFF Academy to teach them basic obedience and house manners. When the puppies are old enough to enter a professional training program, Pawsitism dogs come to our main training center, located in Sheboygan, Wisconsin. 

The first 18 months of a dog’s life are spent being trained and socialized before graduating as a service dog. The average assistance dog works for eight to ten years. After that time, the dog retires from service and will spend its golden years as a pet.

Pawsitism Inc. typically places two, autism assistance service dogs a year. We are hoping to offer more with each year of existence.

Assistance Service Dog

A Pawsitism Inc. assistance service dog can increase a child’s confidence, improve social interactions and relationships, expand communication, build independence, and decrease stress for the child with autism and their family.  They are trained to help a child whether they are in the comforts of their own home, at school, or experiencing new places in the community.

Pawsitism Inc. autism assistance service dogs are highly trained to perform a limited set of practical tasks to assist individuals diagnosed with autism lead more independent lives. Although our graduates find an incredible, emotional bond with their dog, beyond just the working tasks, Pawsitism Inc. does not place dogs with individuals for the primary benefit of emotional comfort or social support.

Some of the tasks they are trained to assist with are:

  • Tracking
  • Swimming
  • Deep pressure therapy
  • Deep gaze therapy
  • Tethering and anchoring
  • Guide work for the blind
  • Seizure or diabetic alert/response
  • Mobility assistance, including balance work
  • To recognize and/or manage undesirable human behavior or provide supervision, navigation, or safety from environmental hazards
  • Respond aggressively or provide personal protection
  • Assist with the management of mental illness as a primary condition

Application Process

Any family that has a child between 5-18 years of age that has been clinically
diagnosed with Autism.  You must also be able to work as a three person team and be suited to work with a dog.

Click here to learn more about whether an autism assistance service dog is right for you.

The application process, as well as all lectures, individual instruction, and written class materials for the parent process (Team Training), are given in English.

The individual applying for an autism assistance service dog to benefit their child must be at least 18 years old with an established, stable home life. We find those 25 years of age and up typically are most suitable for the service dog training. The children must be at least five years old to be considered for an autism assistance service dog. 

Pawsitism Inc. has a comprehensive and interactive application process. Before we begin, we first exchange basic information to determine whether the program will be a good fit.  The next step is a virtual interview process with the trainer and board members to get to know the family better and provide an opportunity to ask question.  If the applicant is still interested, there is an in-person meeting where we ask a few more questions, provide all the paperwork you need to read to fully understand the 5 month training process, and most importantly, see how you interact with the autism assistance service dogs.   At each step of the application process, experienced Pawsitism Inc. staff will review an applicant’s need and qualifications to determine whether or not the applicant will move on.

Click below for a detailed description of the entire timeline.

Timeline Chart

All individuals who complete the online form will receive a response from Pawsitism Inc. within 2 to 4 weeks.

Once on the approved list, the wait time varies depending on the availability of our service dogs at the time of approval and each individual‘s specific needs. Once you are in the application/ interview process, the team will be able to give you an estimated timeline.  

Training Process

Each Pawsitism Inc. autism assistance service dog spends 18 months with a volunteer puppy raiser learning basic commands and being socialized in public and private settings. While with their puppy raiser, the dog also receives training at RUFF Academy training facility.   This is where the dog will be trained and learn advanced commands that will later support the work of our autism assistance service dog.

It takes an exceptional dog to graduate as an autism assistance service dog and not every dog is suitable.  All dogs must be highly proficient in the trained skills and tasks. In addition, Pawsitism Inc. service  dogs receive rigorous medical and temperamental screening to ensure that every dog that graduates will be healthy, happy, and successful in their role.

Matching and Beyond

The match is carefully crafted with a large variety of factors, not just dog availability. In order to make a successful 10-12 year placement, it is crucial that not just the dog’s skills, but also temperament and personality is a good fit for the family that he/she is being placed with. It is never our intention to make a match just to make a match as we are looking at the long term success of the team. We look forward to placing a dog with a family where the dog is going to be a perfect addition and enhancement for the family.

Once the dog has completed their professional training and a candidate is ready, they are brought together for a two month group class known as “Team Training.” During team training, the parents/ guardians learn to manage the autism assistance  service dog’s behavior.  They learn to direct the dog to respond to commands they have already been taught and begin to assume responsibility for maintaining the health and well-being of the dog. 

Pawsitism Inc. has a comprehensive and participatory program to ensure the ongoing success of their working teams. Throughout the working life of the dogs, graduates periodically return to campus with their dogs for public certification, workshops, seminars, and reunions.

In addition, Pawsitism Inc. instructors and graduates communicate on an ongoing basis for correspondence, records, and advice.  Instructors also travel into the field to conduct workshops for specific training or behavioral problems in the graduate’s home or other environment. Once the family graduates, the family becomes personally and financially responsible for the service dog’s medical and daily expenses.  

Pawsitism Inc. maintains ownership of the autism assistance service dog even after placement to ensure the dog maintains their service dog certification.  Once the service dog retires from being a working dog, Pawsitism Inc. and the family will discuss where the dog will spend their retirement.  Most families choose to keep their dog as a pet but it is not a requirement.  

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