*Brayden and NSD Gusto were happy to be apart of National
Service Dogs book In Service- Portraits of Dogs That Change
Lives by the talented Jacqueline Gori and Nancy Silcox.
Brayden was presented the original portrait of Gusto and
talked about how Gusto has impacted his life. You can
purchase this book and all proceeds go directly to National
Service Dogs Here: In Service- Portraits of Dogs That Change Lives.
My name is Brayden. I am 11 years old today. How lucky am I that
I get to spend my birthday talking about how incredibly amazing my
service dog Gusto is and how he has impacted my life.
I have NSD Gusto. He is a golden retriever. He is almost 7 years old.
I have had him almost 5 years in May. He helps me with my autism.
Let me start by saying that I am so lucky to have a service dog and
that my parents stumbled across National Service Dogs in their autism
googling days. Thankfully they don’t do that anymore. There are some
far fetch autism nonsense out there.
Anyways back to my story. I was diagnosed with autism spectrum
disorder when I was three years old. I can remember back in the day
that I was a challenge to say the least for my parents and Grandma.
I would bolt at any given day or time. This was so scary for my parents
and I knew it. But you see my body was so disconnected from my
brain that was so out of control. This is hard to talk about because it
was such a difficult time in my life. Don’t get me wrong my life was
amazing it was just this out of control body that I was trying to figure
out. I eventually learned to get Control of my body by the help of my
parents, Soma – the founder of RPM (Rapid Prompting Method),
My Grandma, my personal trainer Ryan and my Gusto. It is a lot of
work every day, every hour, every second. Always will be a challenge
but it gets easier as the days pass by. That was a challenge to say
I am also limited speech. I can say some words by my mouth but
I cannot express my thoughts or feelings by mouth. That is hard to
deal with. I mostly say stim words or script lines from TV shows or
movies. I was silent for seven years until I found my voice through
RPM( Rapid Prompting Method). This is when my life began I could
finally express myself through letters on board, letter by letter spelling
my thoughts and feelings for the first time in my life. To say was one
of the happiest days of my life next to the day Gusto came home and
he was mine.
I still remember that day like it was yesterday. My parents went to
parent training through NSD (National Service Dogs). They were
gone for one week. I had originally Gusto’s brother Gimlet.
Unfortunately or fortunately is the way I look at it because I would
have never gotten the best service dog ever. They brought Gusto
home and I thought gusto was the most beautiful dog ever. I was in
love at first sight. I was very happy to have home with me. I am
tearing up just thinking about that time. My parents were very strict
with my sisters. They were not allowed to talk, touch, play or feed
Gusto. This was done to foster the bond between gusto and I. No
one except for my parents or the person that was helping me could
give commands to gusto. My parents fed gusto obviously. They
taught me how to feed him.
If Gusto wants to play he comes to me. If Gusto wants to lick me he
comes to me. My parents taught me how to throw balls and toys so
I can play with Gusto. I have to say my favourite thing to do is play
fetch with Gusto. I throw a ball and he always brings it back to me.
If I don’t pay attention to him he will drop it in my lap. It makes me
laugh every time.
I am also tethered to Gusto when we go out. I remember the Hook
up to Gusto. I thought to myself, where have you been all my life?
It was magical. I can finally feel where my body was. I didn’t feel as
though my body was floating as it usually did. I didn’t have to hold my
parents hand anymore. That was a huge deal. I finally had
independence. I am really still loving being tethered to gusto now.
Gusto helps keep me focused and on task. He does this by me
holding his handle and by being tethered to him. He guides me by
keeping me walking and not wandering.
Gusto can sense when I am getting anxious. He goes right up beside
me and that gives me pressure so I feel safe. Mom has finally found
this out and uses it as a cue to move things along. This makes me
feel very safe and happy. Gusto was not taught this command. He
made this up on his own. That is amazing if I say so myself.
He also makes the bad stares turn good. People stare at me because
I make loud noises and flap my arms. But once they see Gusto their
attention is on him and not me. So it is a good thing. I really don’t like
Another thing Gusto does for me is he licks me. This makes me feel
happy. He will lick me a lot throughout the day. When he licks me he
makes the bad feelings or anxious feelings go away. But they are not
always there. Less of them now a days. So that’s good. I am such a
happier person now that I have a voice. Always happy to talk with my
I have taught Gusto to jump on me so I can have deep pressure from
him. I can’t give verbal commands so I had to come up with a different
way to communicate with my dog. How do you do this you ask? Well
I give physical commands. When I want him to eat I touch his ear.
Then he knows it is time to eat. When I want him to lick me I put my
hand in his mouth. When I want him to jump on me, I grab his toy
and I wave it in front of his face and run to the couch. He is so smart
and caught on fast. He loves to mouth me too, which I love too.
Gusto and I go everywhere together even at school. I am lucky to be
homeschooled and I have a fabulous teacher, my mom who allows
service dogs to go to school with their person. Always love to learn
with my best sidekick.
Gusto gives me freedom, independence, always a good laugh,
security, unconditional love and patience.
Patience when my mom takes forever shopping in the stores.
He entertains me during those boring trips.
He is my Gusto and I love him with my whole heart.
Thank you for listening to me ramble on and gush over how my
service dog rocks and how important he is to me.