My sweet autistic Bu…

Many people asked why I call my sweet Bu my autistic no drive BC… Well, here is why:

When we came to see Bu at 7 weeks, she was the only puppy (from two litters) who didn’t come to us to investigate and check what’s up when I bend down and called them in a high happy voice. I first though she must be deaf, but I checked it and she heard well, she was just not interested. The breeder wouldn’t give me another puppy as everybody was there before me and even though I was promised a choice between two females, I think the person getting the other one was praying him for the other one so much that I could only get Bu at the end – and as I really liked the line, I took her, thinking she is a BC afterall and must have some drive and we can then overcome other problems. I was wrong. She was never interested in food or toys, didn’t respond to praise AT ALL and didn’t follow on our walks: she would just wander off as a 8 weeks old puppy (never saw a puppy do that before!) and when I had to run after her, she would look at me like “hey, what’s up?”.

She was completely unable to read emotions and couldn’t tell if the other dog OR a person is angry or happy and was my only puppy attacked by other dogs at our walks and trials as she just couldn’t tell if that dog was friendly or not and would just walk straight there… Happiness expressions were just as unknown for her too: she didn’t care for my happy excited voice and ignored it completely.

The only thing she could understand was clicker training. She LOVES the simplicity of a mechanic noise and that was the only thing that made sense to her. She is a brilliant thinker and the best from my dogs in clicker training and she sure loves it! She doesn’t care for food or toys followed by a click nearly as much as she loves to finally get things. I always say that if she was a person, she would be a mathematician. She loves to think and figure things out – as long as they’re predictable.

Through clicker training and my jackpot voice, she also learned to read happy voice and even though she never saw me angry, she somehow learned what an angry dog and people sounds sound like and is VERY scared of it. She is very afraid of aggressive barking and yelling people. She just doesn’t understand anger, that’s why she is scared of it. Things she doesn’t understand freak her out. She is otherwise not noise sensitive at all and doesn’t care at all about shooting and thunders – that’s all fine with her.

Agility freaked her out at first too: she always loved weaves, contacts and of course, tunnels, as you are always asked of the same thing there. But huh, running sequences that are different every single time… Huh! She loved doing the same thing over and over and over again, but doing something different… Oh my! She sure taught me just how early I should be giving her all the information necessary. As long as she knows all the time where exactly is the next obstacle after the next and she can do her maths on how it would be the best to take it, she LOVES it. But we needed a while for her to not shut down when she gets the info too late and finds herself one step off the ideal line…

She also learned to play: she doesn’t really have a drive for it, but she loves it as she loves doing things she knows, especially if they form some kind of a routine. She LOVES routines, she understands routines well and feels safe about them. Because of those routines, she can run in very scary environments for her. However, any change of a routine freaks her out completely.

For example, our normal routine after a run is to run away from a ring and party in a “safer” environment, BUT on World Championships 2010 in Germany, they were checking microchips after every run and that completely freaked her out to the point that I was not sure if she will complete her last run on WC: she did, but with a completely different speed at the ending line – that costed us a podium! So as I heard that this year, they’ll do the same, I borrowed the microchip reader (thanks Janja!!!), taught her as a trick to target it with a left side of a neck and that the beep means a reward and she though it’s a really cool trick. I asked some of my students to do it too and she though it’s pretty cool. So I wanted to do it after our run, at the trial three weeks before Lievin, right after coming out of the ring – and she freaked out COMPLETELY. People that saw her in that state were suggesting to pull her off WC and let the reserve dog run instead as it really didn’t look like she could handle that – and I was not sure we can change that routine that quickly either, so I was not at all sure if I should go or not… I then tried the microchip check at the car and she was fine, brought her back to the ring and do it while doing other tricks and she was fine… Just not after the run, we don’t do that after the run right! So while others were preparing for WC courses, all my energy went into preparing for a microchip check, changing her after-run routine by doing the ”chip chip” trick before running to the car… And we did it :) We made her feel o.k. about it AND we ran all the courses great (other than when I got lost of course:) ).

She is a genius and can run any course with a mathematical precision, she never missed weave pole entry in her life and always does EXACTLY what told – but she can freak out completely because of a microchip check if not part of a routine… She also won’t play if it’s not part of a routine. – Now, that’s why I call her my autistic no drive BC :) And I sure love her for exactly what she is, she is the sweetest dog I ever met, hilarious because of her little obsessions and too cute with her routines. LoLaBuLand would definitely never be the same without Bu and this very important learning experience she brought me. What a cool dog!

Bu’s winning run on WC Lievin 2011 - this was Bu’s fourth time to set best time on World Championships:

15 thoughts on “My sweet autistic Bu…

  1. And this is what makes you, Silvia, such a special person (as well as for a million other things…). Most people would have given up. Not you. You always find a way. I see soooo many people in Italy with more than one dog just because the previous ones weren’t good enough.
    This article should teach us something…

  2. What a cute story! I’m sure Bu is very proud of being your dog :-) You’re probably the only one who is able to say “Lolabuland wouldn’t be’ the same without Bu, what a cool dog” after all the issues with her. I know many people who would rather say “have fun in your new home” to the dog… But they have not all your agility archivements. I guess why :-)
    By the way, when will we see a new labubile agility and tricks video??? :-)

  3. Having autistic daughter (now 5 years old) I can confirm you are totally right calling Bu like that. It is like you’ve been describing my kid when she was 2-3 :/ To be honest I admire your determination to have a bond with her, accept her as she is and make her happy on her conditions. We had huge support from my family, specialists and therapies and my baby is “almost normal” specially in others look, but having routines still makes me busy working with her. For example it took her 2 months to get used to my morning walks with dog instead of sitting with her when she wakes up …
    And you are right, I also would never learn so many things without having her as a kid, and would be probably quite different person. Good luck for you both!

    • Wow, great that she can function almost normally by now! That’s a really big achievement, I know how much work “almost normal” in others eyes can be… I’m happy to say Bu mostly looks almost normal by now too, but changes of the routines can still throw her off some…

  4. Wow, that is incredible! She truly does fit the criteria for autistic, and you are definitely one of the most brilliant dog trainers in the world! They say we get the dog that we need at the time, but I would say Bu definitely got the home she needed!

  5. Aw, I have called Roscoe autistic before I ever knew you and I believe these are the kinds of dogs that are true gifts!! Special in ways we just will never know, those of us who are “normal”. You are so lucky and so wonderful to figure out what helps her and keeps her “safe”. She is a true gift!!

  6. She may have been the last puppy left but she sure was the luckiest! I think there was a reason all the other pups were taken and you had no choice but to have her, only you could have had the patience to have done what you have with her and turn her into a champion! Now Bi is showing you what a real high drive BC looks like!

    • Yeap, they’re a perfect match! When I’m tired of Bi’s wilderness, I can always take Bu and when I’m tired of mental management that training Bu takes, I can always take Bi -- who just couldn’t care less about being perfect or not :)

  7. My son is an asperger (autsimspectrum) and if this dog would be mine, I could answer to my daupghters question:” Mom, does animals have aspergers” Yes, tehy do. -- What a amazing story!

    • When I first shared my theory about Bu be autistic, everybody was just laughing at me… But the more I know about it, the more similarities I see and reading about autistic children actually gave me lots of good ideas on how to work with Bu, it was really very helpful.

      • Oh yes, Roscoe totally fits aspergers. Hates to be touched, but loves to be SNUGGLED close. Much prefers indoor agility because of the four walls, and in fact can barely handle outdoor agility. Sounds and smells can send him over the edge. Yet, gunshots don’t bother him. I could go on and on. He’s brilliant. Learns things in record time. Loves the clicker, like your Bu. Patterns are essential for him.

  8. Many people I know would have just taken another dog for their sport. It’s wonderful doing your best with what you’ve got (and doing great also!).
    Dogs (and people) are not perfect. But they are family and each deserves different treatment.

  9. I don’t have an autistic dog, but I have 2 BCs who are intense, eccentric individuals in their own right. I enjoyed reading about Bu and Lo because I appreciate how demanding it is to train and work with these souls, to discover and accept ,with grace, the things I cannot change, and to experience with them the many things they do so well. It doesn’t seem wise to go through life dwelling on and worrying about those aspects that the experts say ought be changed. Rather, I love to go out in the agility ring truly planning for, assisting and celebrating the things my dog does well. Thank you for writing about the special dogs in our lives.

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