MILFORD - Man’s best friends are known to be four legged, hairy descendants of the wolf who are interested in pleasing their owners through their love and ability to have fun. Dogs though, can be so much more, as is the case with Benni, a year-old lab who is near the end of his basic training, to serve a child with autism.

Since he was eight-weeks-old, Chrisanne Cubby has been committed to training Benni 25 words, that will prepare him for the next chapter of his training. Next month, Benni will go on to more, in depth training to ready for his role as a service dog, for a child with autism.

Once he is completely trained, Benni will be able to stop a child with autism from bolting. To stop a child from bolting, Cubby explained that Benni will learn how to anchor a child so they can’t bolt.  Or because some children with autism are “impulsive,” and “may split,” Cubby said Benni will sleep in the bed with the child. But, Benni’s primary job is to “be a child’s best friend.”

When out in public, Cubby explained that Benni will wear a jacket that an adult will control with a leash, while the child will be anchored to a harness. In preparation for that, Cubby has been teaching Benni the 25 words that the parents will have to learn.

Cubby started training service dogs in 2004 for Guiding Eyes for the Blind. She raised six for the program. Benni however, is her first service dog for a child with autism. Of the dogs she trained, two became guide dogs; one became a brood in a breeding kennel and the other three she adopted.

Since she had experience training dogs already, many of the 25 commands she had to teach Benni, Cubby was familiar with. There were some like “place” that Cubby had to learn, since that tells Benni to lie down on his mat.

After putting her own dog down in 1992, Cubby decided she never wanted a dog again. But, when she was looking for something to do in 2004 Cubby got involved in Guiding Eyes for the Blind and had 15 months to raise her first service dog. Raising a dog that will go on to be a service dog, that she said is her chance to “give back to the world” and to “make the world a better place.”

Raising her first service dog, Cubby said it was a “great experience” even though the dog did not go on to serve anyone. Consequently, she adopted the dog which set the “precedent” because she has since adopted a few more that didn’t pass.

Now, through Blue Path Benni is Cubby’s first service dog for a child with autism. To better her training skills, Cubby has participated in classes from the Tri-State Dog Obedience Club since Benni was three-months-old when they started working together. From a basic one class, Benni was socializing with other dogs and people. To adjust him to children, however, Cubby brought him to a daycare. She said since he may be a service dog for a child with autism, “he needs to know what kids are like.”

At the daycare, Cubby said Benni was “different with kids” as he was calmer; but when he’s with her, Benni is “jumpy.” Once home, Benni enjoys running around the yard with Cubby’s other dogs. He really likes, however, sitting in Cubby’s lap. That is okay she said, because once with a child with autism, he will have to keep the child “secure and down.”

Benni who was born on Pearl Harbor Day, was named after a hero from that day, Cubby said. Benni made his way to Pennsylvania from North Carolina, where he was bred by Project 2 Heal, a nonprofit breeder.

Benni is different than Cubby’s other dogs, because she described him as having a “calmer nature” and from the start of their relationship, there has been a “connection” that started much sooner. Cubby will finish training Benni next month or possibly in March, and from there, he will continue his training and may finish by December, where he will then be matched with a family.

Having a connection with a dog, spending months training that dog and then, to give the dog to someone else, that Cubby said is “always hard.” But, the reality is that, she has to keep her mind on the “bigger picture all the time.” While she hasn’t had a child with autism, Cubby does see how Benni can serve a family and so, the reward of the joy he will bring to a family makes all her efforts worthwhile.

Even though they have a bond, Cubby said she had worked to ensure Benni has connected with others over the course of his training, by having him stay overnight with others who are also certified through Blue Path. Seeing Benni progress, that she said is “exciting.”

Cubby wasn’t sure how to train Benni to sleep with the children. She allowed him to be on furniture some time, and he eventually stopped sleeping in a kennel at night. Instead, he had a choice between a dog bed on the floor or the end of Cubby’s bed.

Cubby likes dogs because they aren’t “judgmental,” she said, instead they are “loyal” and seem to “always be happy.” As well, dogs are “loving and kind” rather than being mean to others like people at times. 

Benni has an ability to learn quickly, at a time just needing two days to understand a command. When she got him at eight-weeks-old, he already knew “sit” and his name. His recall, Cubby said, is “impeccable” since she can call him from the backyard and he returns “in a flash.” Plus, he likes to work and learn. 

The greatest progress she has seen, Cubby said, is Benni’s ability to walk through crowds while also watching her. At one time they went to a festival and while walking around, he acted as if no one else was there. 

There was a point in the training, when Cubby took Benni to GAIT Therapeutic Riding Center which she called an “incredible experience” because of how calm he was with the children who had autism. It seemed as if he knew they had special needs. One child was afraid to touch him, yet, Benni responded by sitting on the child’s feet while watching Cubby.

While her job was to teach Benni 25 words, over the course of their training and time together, Benni too taught Cubby something. She said simply, that Benni made her realize that there is a “time to chill” and a time to work.  

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