Sonic the Assistance Dog

Sonic joined our family in May of 2019 with what was at that stage a dream of training him to become an Assistance Dog.  I had spent hours researching into what was required and I knew that turning this into a reality would not be easy.  What a truly life changing experience it has turned out to be. 

Our Son, Max (5), was born with complex medical conditions. This has been unbelievably stressful on us as a family, as Max’s triggers involve hundreds of foods (requiring him to be mostly tube fed), and any stress on his body (heat, cold, illness etc) can cause him to become unresponsive needing immediate emergency intervention. 

Initially, we talked about getting a dog as a family pet, and decided adding a pup to our already insanely hectic lifestyle was just not an option. We started to think about Assistance Dogs and the possibility of a dog actually assisting us with Max.

Max was super excited about getting a dog but in showing him photos of potentials, none of the dogs I was showing him were catching his attention until we found Sonic. From the minute Max saw his photo, he wanted “the dog with the spot on its head!” Lots of phone calls to ensure his personality was suitable, and logistics of transporting from another state, we made it happen.

Initially, the goal with Sonic was to have him just help with some of the anxiety associated with Max’s conditions, but as we started training I realised very quickly, Sonic was no ordinary Whippet. The bond he and Max have is like nothing I could have trained. It was this bond that would make the big dreams we had for Sonic, eventually become a reality. 

We started with the usual puppy training and Sonic progressed very quickly through this. I could see a huge amount of potential in Sonic and started to work on tasks. I taught him initially to lay over Max when he was having a meltdown to calm him down and to retrieve (and anyone who has experience with Whippets knows that is a feat in itself), but this was a way for Max to bond with Sonic further. This retrieving became taskwork and Sonic now retrieves emergency kits and medications, opens cupboards and fridges. (even taught him to retrieve a beer from the fridge, which was purely for my own entertainment). It was at this point I started to look into medical alert dogs and training Sonic to alert prior to Max becoming unresponsive. 

Working with odour detection and the medical knowledge I have acquired through parenting Max, I managed to teach Sonic the odour and added a barking alert.  This process was incredibly long and took many hours, but in true Sonic style, he picked it up very quickly. Once Sonic knew the odor and the indication, we started to see him bark right as Max was becoming unresponsive. This indication only got stronger with each episode and his potential as an Assistance Dog became very apparent.

By 18 months of age, sonic was performing a huge range of tasks for Max, and also indicating up to 30 minutes prior to Max becoming unresponsive. With the help of Positive Response Assistance Dogs and some further training, Sonic passed his Public Access Test. To have a fully certified Assistance Dog is one of the most incredible experiences for us as a family and truly life changing!  To have Sonic with us now in all areas of our lives has meant Max can live life as a very normal 5 year old boy. Sonic alerts well before an episode so Max can have his medication to avoid ending up in hospital and recently Sonic is being integrated into Max’s school life.

Sonic’s ability to alert before Max becomes unresponsive has changed our lives. In a recent admittance to hospital the medical specialist staff were amazed as sonic started to alert bark. The more the numbers fell the louder and more intense Sonics indication became. To see all of the work we had put into Sonic paying off with a room full of medical professionals was an incredible experience. 

Max has a long road ahead of him, but the change Sonic has brought to our family is something I will be eternally grateful for.