Autism Assistance Dogs Ireland: Poppy’s Story

Autism Assistance Dogs Ireland (AADI) is a national charity established to transform the lives of children with autism and their families, by providing highly trained 'task specific' assistance dogs to children with autism. The assistance dogs support the children to overcome the distressing elements of autism. 

Petworld are proud to support Autism Assistance Dogs Ireland. Since 2016, we have undertaken multiple fundraising activities including our Pet NCT's (every May and September) and our annual Furry 5K walk. 

"It costs €22,000 and 2 years to train each dog to the standard that will make a lasting difference to a child with autism."AADI
AADI Puppy's Feeding
AADI Puppy and Collection Bucket

Over the past 3 years we have raised over €22,000 for AADI. 

This money allows AADI to raise a puppy and train it to become an Autism Assistance Dog. To highlight the importance of this money and the work that AADI do we want to tell you the story of Poppy. Poppy is a beautiful Golden Retriever puppy. However, Poppy's story is a different one and one which we feel needs to be told to highlight the incredible work that AADI do and why AADI needs our support.

Poppy is now 9 months old. At 8 weeks of age Poppy was placed with a volunteer Puppy Foster Carer. In the early stages of Poppy's training she encountered some difficulties. She engaged in resource guarding behaviours, which resulted in displays of aggressive behaviour. 


"Resource guarding is when a dog controls access to food, objects, people and locations that are important to him through defensive body language or overt aggressive display.”
Poppy's Resource Guarding

Poppy’s resource guarding came to light at about 12 weeks of age. It began with items such as socks. Poppy would run onto her bed with the treasured item and would display defensive body language when a family member approached. If the family member exchanged the item for a treat, Poppy would release the socks. However, over time Poppy began to place a very high value on certain toys. It was a challenge to find something else, of a higher value, to exchange the item for.

What Did AADI Do?

AADI tried to change Poppys behaviour through a behavioral modification program. This involved creating a Conditioned Emotional Response (CER) when someone would approach her while she had her treasure. A CER is a learned, emotional reaction. It is something we see every day in dogs. For example, when you pick up your dog’s lead, they get all excited and start wagging their tail! This occurs because every time you picked up the lead in the past, the dog got to go for a walk. Now,  picking up the lead makes the dog feel happy….an emotional response.

Using behavior modification we created an emotional response in Poppy. We exchanged her treasured resource (socks) for something else that she loves (Poppy loves spam). She progressed in leaps and bounds!

Despite her progress, Poppy could no longer become an AADI puppy. 

AADI Poppy
AADI Poppy
Nature v’s Nurture

So why did Poppy not succeed as an AADI dog? Firstly, is is widely believed that aggression in puppies is due to their genetics. Therefore, it can never be “trained away”. Secondly, if there is a risk, even the smallest possible chance, that the resource guarding could emerge further down the line, AADI could not place Poppy in a home with a child.

Poppy Landed On Her Paws

Everyone at AADI, Petworld and Poppy’s foster family were heartbroken to make the decision that Poppy could not become an AADI puppy. It was an extremely difficult decision but it was the right one. The good news is that Poppy was placed in a wonderful home, with a wonderful family. The family have no children, so Poppy's resource guarding will not be an issue. In her new home, Poppy is the centre of attention and truly loved. 

Poppy's story highlights the incredible work carried out by AADI and the efforts it takes to ensure a dog is fully trained to become an Assistance Dog. Once trained an Assistance Dog can have a transformative effect on the life of a child with autism and their family. But, it is not an easy task. It takes time and it takes money. At Petworld, we have seen first hand the incredible work that AADI do. Now is your chance to join us and help us make a lasting impact!