Autism Support Dog Training

Pawtonomy is a collaborative partnership run by myself and Dr Julia Leatherland (PhD). Together, we offer the opportunity for members of the autistic community to owner-train their own support or assistance dog. We hope to make our service accessible to all who might benefit from it.

We recognise that there are many people, who think they are autistic, who are facing long waiting times before they are seen for assessment and diagnosis. In addition, there are some for whom self-identification as autistic is enough, and who do not wish to pursue a formal diagnosis. For this reason, we welcome people who self-identify as autistic, or who are waiting to be assessed, as well as those who have a diagnosis, to join Pawtonomy and train their dog to support them.


Our experience


As a parent of an autistic adult son, and a younger son with specific additional learning needs, I have both personal and professional experience of autism. Before beginning my dog training career, I spent 16 years in a variety of roles, supporting adults with learning disabilities, many of whom were also autistic, and providing autism awareness training to others. During this time, I completed specialised autism training at the Tizard Centre and The University of Birmingham and autism remains my area of special interest. I have experience of training assistance dogs for people with a wide range of additional needs.

Photo of Julia Leatherland.


I am an autistic parent of five autistic children. Since the first of my children received an autism diagnosis in 2010, autism has become my area of special interest and I have gone on to successfully complete a Post Graduate Certificate in Asperger Syndrome, an MA in autism, and a PhD focusing on understanding and improving the mainstream secondary school experience for autistic pupils.

I was awarded the Education Childhood and Inclusion Prize for Outstanding Personal Commitment and Determination in Academic Study for my PhD work (2018) and won a Sheffield Hallam University Inspirational Female Student award in 2016. In addition, I was a finalist in the Anna Kennedy Online (AKO) Autism Hero Awards Autism Parent category (2016). I was nominated for all of these awards by other autistic people and that is what made receiving them so fabulous - to know that what I am doing is valued by the autistic community, and by my own autistic family, means everything to me.

I have worked in a variety of support roles, including being a specialist mentor for autistic university students, and running advice and support groups for parents of children with Special Educational Needs. I was involved in working alongside Local Authority autism and education professionals, to develop city-wide autism strategies, and have written several articles, published in a range of academic journals, about autism, education, and well-being.

I am passionate about working with autistic individuals to find ways to empower them to lead rich and fulfilling lives through the provision of enabling environments.

I met Lorraine through our mutual love of dogs and interest in autism. We have become friends as well as colleagues and very much enjoy working together to enable autistic people to benefit from the positive impact a support dog can have on their lives.


How we work together

Julia and I work in partnership. I carry out the dog assessments and develop and deliver each bespoke training programme. Julia helps me to consider the individual needs of my autistic clients, both when formulating training plans and throughout the training process. Using information provided by you, following your initial assessment, she uses her understanding of the potential impact of certain environments and situations on autistic wellbeing, to help me recognise, in advance, areas where training might cause you difficulties and to successfully manage any problems which do arise. Her input better enables me to provide person-centred support, that both recognises and harnesses your strengths and skills whilst respecting those areas in which you experience more difficulty.


What we do

I will help you to build a positive relationship with your dog and, depending on your personal support needs, assist you to train them to perform behaviours such as:

  • Deep pressure therapy: Your dog can be trained to lie across an area of your body. This has been shown to have a calming or grounding effect on some people who are experiencing anxiety or sensory overload.
  • Finding an exit: Your dog can be trained to locate the exit and lead you out of a room or building during times of sensory overload or when levels of anxiety are increasing.
  • Protect your personal space: Your dog can be trained to moving into a position which blocks you from uncomfortable visual stimuli and/or prevent invasion of your personal space by others.
  • Alert others: Your dog can be trained to alert someone if you are in crisis and need assistance.
  • Interrupting behaviours that could cause harm: Your dog can be trained to recognise and interrupt you if you are performing anxiety driven behaviours which might cause you physical harm or leave you hurt (such as banging your head; biting yourself; or pulling at your hair). Your dog can be taught to do whatever you need at these times to restore you to a less anxious state (such as nuzzle you; lie next to you and be stroked; or lie across you).
  • Retrieve items: Your dog can be taught to bring items such as medication or a phone to you when you ask for them.


Some other areas in which a dog might support their autistic partner are by:

  • Providing companionship
  • Increasing independence and supporting their access to the wider community
  • Helping them to feel grounded and focused on their surroundings
  • Encouraging the development of social skills
  • Providing a mutual focus for the easier initiation of interactions


I can also support you to train your dog to pass a public access test, allowing your dog into public places, so that you can have their support when attending appointments, meetings or when you go shopping.

Julia will use the information collection methods and materials, developed as part of her PhD, to create a ‘Facts About Me’ (FAMe™) profile for you before training work begins. The information is written up into a personal profile which allows me to help bespoke train your dog according to your specific requirements. The aim of this work is to ensure I understand your strengths and areas of difficulty; your communication and interaction preferences; your sensory profile; and any particular stressors that need to be managed or avoided.


To apply:

  1. You complete an application form.
  2. We will contact you to discuss your requirements.
  3. Your dog will be assessed to ensure their suitability for the training programme.


Following a positive assessment:

  1. You complete the FAMe™ information sheets and return them to Julia. She will liaise with you to ensure the personal profile she writes accurately reflects you as an individual. Once you are happy with it, it will be passed on to Lorraine.
  2. We work with you to develop a training plan that suits you.
  3. Training begins.



Assessment cost will be discussed following the initial free consultation. Ongoing training costs will depend on the intensity of training input required and financial situation of each of our members. It is important to us that no one who might benefit from an assistance or support dog should be excluded by their ability to pay. Please do get in touch if you feel that this might apply to you as we still might be able to help, or alternatively direct you to another organisation who can.



Register your interest

Please contact us and we will get back to you as soon as possible.