Autism varies widely, impacting some more intensely than others. Although there’s no cure, therapies help individuals navigate the world. Among the various therapies, there’s one that’s often overlooked: dogs! Dogs offer significant support to those with ASD.
Their unconditional love and unwavering companionship bring comfort and reduce stress. Below, we’ll explore the best dog breeds for people with autism and share tips on how to choose the right one, so let’s dive right in!
Can Dogs Really Help People with Autism?
Unfortunately, autism makes socialization slightly harder—talking without letting others respond, trouble establishing eye contact, and mismatched facial expressions. This can result in depression, anxiety, insecurity, etc.
Luckily, dogs, being adaptable and non-judgemental, pick up on our vibes naturally and don’t care about what’s considered “normal.”
They also don’t mind if someone can’t hold or establish eye contact. That’s why they make great companions for adults and kids with autism.
Moreover, their mere presence is calming, and they can learn soothing techniques. So, for people with autism, a dog means love, friendship, and help with anxiety, depression, and similar issues.
To answer your question, yes, dogs can really help people with autism.
Different Types of Support Dogs
Every person with autism has different needs. Fortunately, there’s a wide range of dogs that can help meet specific needs. Here’s a breakdown of the types of support dogs and their differences:
Service dogs have training for specific tasks so they can help their owners with disabilities. For instance, psychiatric service dogs (PSDs) can help people with autism by preventing self-harm, applying pressure therapy, fetching medication, etc.
Additionally, they have certain rights, such as flying for free and accessing public areas.
Emotional Support Animals (ESAs)
On the other hand, emotional support animals (ESAs) don’t need specialized training. They resemble companion dogs, which we’ll discuss next. However, you can get a dog of this type with a therapist-prescribed letter only.
Moreover, these dogs can reside with you anywhere, even in pet-restricted housing, but they have no additional rights like service dogs.
As you can assume, companion dogs aren’t specialized as service dogs or ESAs. Still, their presence alone can help with various disorders.
So, consider adopting a companion dog if you don’t need specific rights.
Best Dog Breeds for People with Autism
First and foremost, when choosing a dog for autistic people, remember that the person matters more than the dog breed. It doesn’t matter if the dog is purebred or a mix from a local shelter; it’s their qualities that can help the person in question that matter.
Also, keep in mind that the following breeds for people with autism aren’t in a specific order—what works best for one person may not be the same for another!
1. Labrador Retriever
Labrador Retrievers, known for their friendliness and love for people, make a perfect choice for autistic people. Furthermore, they’re smart, loyal, easily trainable, and enjoy playing fetch to burn off energy, so they’re also great family pets.
Great for hunting, Labradors excel in service dog roles without needing much grooming, though they shed, so they’re not ideal for those with allergies.
Poodles come in toy, miniature, and standard sizes.
Miniature or toy Poodles suit adults seeking a small dog, while the standard Poodle is a good fit for families with younger children. Their friendly and affectionate nature makes Poodles a great option for people with autism.
They love their family and enjoy meeting new people and thriving in social situations. Great with children, they’re a top choice for families with autistic kids.
The only downside is their proneness to barking, making them less suitable for sound-sensitive individuals with autism.
If you’re looking for a loyal and intelligent dog, consider buying or adopting a Collie.
Collies make a great choice for first-time dog owners because they’re mild-mannered and gentle. Moreover, they’re particularly good with kids, making them a family-friendly option.
Their high empathy levels make Collies well-suited for service dog work, and their intelligence makes them easy to train. However, be prepared for regular brushing to manage their thick coats, as Collies shed quite a bit.
Lastly, keep in mind that this breed doesn’t like cats and birds. So, if you own other pets, consider a different dog breed.
Consider the Newfoundland if you’re seeking a large dog for a child with autism.
Despite their massive size, they’re gentle giants known as “nanny dogs” by the AKC, as they’re naturally patient with children. Still, supervised interactions aren’t something you should take lightly.
These dogs aren’t only great with children but also affectionate to all family members, friendly with strangers, and get along well with other dogs.
The best part? They’re not high-energy and require only around 30 minutes of moderate exercise per day.
5. Bernese Mountain Dog
The Bernese Mountain Dog, a gentle giant, is great with children and affectionate with family, although they may bond more deeply with one member.
They get along well with other dogs and strangers and have a calm demeanor, making them suitable for those with ASD.
While not high-energy, Berners enjoy family playtime and outdoor activities, requiring a decent amount of exercise. They’re also smart and people-pleasers, so they’re easy to train. Their only downside is their heavy shedding.
6. Cavalier King Charles Spaniel
For those who prefer a small canine, the adorable Cavalier King Charles Spaniel is ideal. With a loving nature, they enjoy cuddling and get along well with people, including strangers, young children, and other dogs.
Intelligent and eager to please, they train easily. Additionally, they only need moderate exercise and enjoy couch cuddles and neighborhood strolls.
However, they might not suit people with sound sensitivities on the autism spectrum, as they bark moderately.
7. Saint Bernard
If you’re eyeing a large dog, especially for children, the Saint Bernard could be a perfect fit. Known as gentle giants, they have calm personalities and sturdy statures. So, they’re ideal for deep pressure therapy, mobility, or balance issues.
One thing to consider before adopting one is their stubbornness. If you’re experienced with dog training or plan to hire a trainer, it’s no issue, but if it’s your first time with a dog, be mindful of the potential learning curve.
8. German Shepherd
Everyone knows German Shepherds have sharp minds. That’s why they made our list of the best dog breeds for people with autism.
They can quickly learn complex tasks and excel as service dogs, especially for autistic people. Furthermore, they’re energy chameleons, matching their handler’s energy but also being calm when needed. Still, they need some exercise.
However, German Shepherds need some exercise.
Samoyeds have unique, contagious smiles. They’re also known for their intelligence, friendliness, and loving nature, making them excellent for service dog work.
Their larger size is beneficial for children with autism, providing extra balance or mobility support and offering deep-pressure therapy for adults.
However, Samoyeds have high energy levels, and depending on your or your child’s daily activities, this could be a positive.
Still, if you prefer a dog with minimal stimulation and playtime needs, a mellower breed might be a better fit.
10. Great Dane
Many don’t know that Great Danes would make great service dogs.
Their large size ensures stability and support, while their calm and gentle nature easily comforts their owners. They’re also very intelligent and easily trainable, which is crucial for performing service tasks.
However, their size means they need space and exercise and may not be suitable for smaller living environments. Additionally, this breed drools more than others, so keep that in mind when deciding.
How to Choose the Right Dog Breed for People with Autism
When choosing the right dog breed for someone with autism, consider the following traits:
We suggest looking for dog breeds known for being smart because smart dogs can learn service dog tasks more easily.
Ensure the canine is friendly and non-aggressive toward individuals with autism and people in general. Additionally, if you have other pets in your home, consider a breed that can coexist peacefully with the rest of your animal kingdom.
Choose a pet with a gentle, patient, and affectionate nature, as this minimizes the risk of accidental harm, especially during play.
When choosing a dog for individuals with autism, you must prioritize trainability, especially if the canine should learn demanding tasks.
Eagerness to Please
Opt for a dog that develops a strong bond with the person and family, recognizing behavioral and emotional changes.
While small dog breeds have advantages, a child with autism may benefit more from a larger breed that provides better protection and more intense tactile stimulation.
Moreover, having a large dog can offer a sense of calm, knowing the person is well-protected. Lastly, ensure you have all the necessary dog supplies before bringing a new pet home.
In a nutshell, getting a canine for people with autism is a great choice, but choosing the right breed matters.
The right dog can help people with autism who might find it difficult to communicate or connect with others feel better. To be more specific, the right pet can bring comfort to individuals dealing with sadness, anxiety, and stress.