The Best Dog Breeds for Autistic Children

By Rachel Monroe

The best dog breeds for autistic children tend to be Labrador retrievers, golden retrievers or a mix of the two. These dogs tend to be friendly, loyal, understanding, patient and people-oriented. Adding a dog to your family, can transform your autistic child’s life, making him more cooperative, social and self-confident.

Autism Basics

Boy crawling through a play tunnel behind a service dog

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Autism is a brain-based developmental disability that is a part of the autism spectrum disorders, which include persuasive development disorder, Rett syndrome, autism, Asperger's syndrome and childhood disintegrative disorder. Autism is believed to be affected by genetics. It is four times more common in boys than girls. Individuals with autism have social, emotional and communicative impairments, as well as unusual behaviors such as repetitive movements. Those afflicted are often resistant to change, refuse to give or receive affection and have difficulty coping with environmental stimulation.

Benefits of Dogs for Autism

Happy yellow labrador

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A therapy or service dog can work wonders for a child with autism, helping to soothe an autistic child who is having an emotional outburst or meltdown due to environmental stimulation or feeling overwhelmed. Therapy dogs can reduce or prevent some of the repetitive behaviors seen in autistic children, such as rocking back and forth for hours. They can calm a child helping him fall asleep at night and give a child the self-confidence needed to interact socially. Some therapy dogs can be trained to prevent an autistic child from wandering off by circling the child and barking to alert caregivers.

Ideal Characteristics

Boy kissing golden retriever

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Dogs who are loyal, friendly, forgiving of a child’s mistakes, understanding and in tune to the child’s needs are ideal. Some experts believe a puppy is the best choice, as it allows the dog to fully bond with a young child. Paws With a Cause, a Michigan-based nonprofit that trains therapy dogs for autistic children uses golden retrievers, Labrador retrievers, or mixes of these two breeds. For people with allergy concerns, poodles or poodle mixes are occasionally utilized. The organization, Autism Service Dogs of America, trains golden retrievers, Labrador retrievers, goldendoodles, labradoodles and golden-lab mixes as service dogs.

Breeds to Avoid

Border collie

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Herding breeds, such as Australian shepherds and border collies should be avoided. These breeds often nip or chase children, even in play. An autistic child could become fearful. Guard dogs, such as German shepherds are often too focused on what is happening in their environment to devote adequate attention to a child. They may bark, growl or show teeth to people who are not family members, including emergency personnel.

Locating a Service Dog

Girl looking at a dog with her mom at an animal shelter

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Some families may simply want a pet to bond with their child. In this case, talk to local breeders or visit your local animal shelter in search of a golden retriever or Labrador retriever. If you are specifically interested in a trained service dog, contact organizations that can help. Options include the Autism Service Dogs of America, the North Star Foundation and Paws with a Cause.