Brett Endes is a Los Angeles-based dog psychologist with 22 years experience specializing in severe problem behaviour cases. Brett also has autism along with his younger daughter. You can learn more about Brett at www.dogtrainingLA.com.
Since I was a young child I found my comfort in dogs.
My relationship with dogs
I was always more comfortable around animals than people. As a kid I brought home every pet I could find! From hamsters (we had over 100) to lizards, I spent hours watching my pets, analysing what they were thinking and what it would feel like to be them. Out of all the animals though, dogs were the ones with whom I felt the most special connection. Around other people I would feel out of place. But I always knew where I stood with dogs! They were consistent and I could rely on their behaviour(s). Because of this, there has rarely been a moment in my life where I have not had a dog by my side!
Life has not always been easy. I went through childhood and most of early adulthood not understanding why I was different, and tried to force myself to act in ways others expected. I learned early on not to point out every behaviour you observe in people or they will not like you. Dogs, on the other hand, thrive when you communicate to them that you recognize their patterns and try to empathize.
Because most “normal” people are afraid of connecting in this way I found myself lonely and struggling with both professional and personal relationships. It was difficult to maintain a traditional job because I tended to isolate myself from the “group mentality” of a traditional work environment.
I decided that if I wanted to be independent as an adult I had to figure out a way to work with dogs. Being resourceful, I made flyers for a dog walking service and went door-to-door handing them out. Despite the calls coming in, I was terrified that I had to interact with people to get hired.
As I had learned in corporate life, this was not my strong suit. Since I was desperate to be financially independent, I fought my doubts and went to visit my first potential client. Surprisingly I was not nervous at all! Having dogs around me and being able to talk about the one subject I’m fascinated with made me more comfortable than a late night talk show host! The dogs were the missing link to my severe work-related social anxieties.
Despite finding my niche I still knew I was “different” and struggled in my personal life. I did not yet realize that I was on the autism spectrum and thought I just had a unique way of speaking about and communicating with dogs.
It all makes sense
It was only after my daughter was diagnosed with autism that I began to think about how I might be on the spectrum as well? Many of the sensory based “behaviours” she demonstrated were similar to what my parents reported I did as a young child. I felt that I “got” her when others seemed baffled. But how could I be autistic? I always thought that people with autism were “other people” and I was just sensitive, quirky, different, etc. I had such doubts after being diagnosed I got a second opinion! It was so liberating to have an answer to why I saw and felt the way I did! Being diagnosed as an adult has helped me become accepting of myself and proud to be able to share this gift.
The Dog Savant
As a professional I’ve had the privilege of working with 10,000+ dogs in over 20 years as a problem behaviour specialist. My work focuses on sensory processing issues in dogs that lead to behaviour problems such as aggression / anxiety and its parallels to autism. Being on the spectrum allows me to relate to these dogs and recognize micro behaviour patterns other trainers do not see. I am able to teach dog owners how to communicate with their dogs in the most meaningful way possible and as a result, I’ve had amazing success helping dogs who were previously written off as “untrainable” or as lost causes. How great is that!
To grow from a child who was thought not to be capable of being independent to have the opportunity to pursue a successful career working with dogs is very rewarding. My first book on how to solve your dog’s problems through the eyes of autism is scheduled for release in early 2016 and am proud to say that the gift of autism has allowed me to be independent and successful in doing exactly what I love!