Choosing the Right Dog for Your ASD Child

Updated on October 13, 2017
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Christiansen's son, Jackie, is diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). She is the author of Planet A: A Mother's Memoir of ASD.

How to Choose the Right Dog

The right dog can be a great companion for your ASD child.
The right dog can be a great companion for your ASD child.

Information to Help You Find the Right Dog for Your ASD Child

So, you’re thinking about getting a dog for your ASD child, but figuring out the right dog can be difficult. It’s not always easy for a special needs child to bond with animals, and it’s important to find the right fit. My ASD son had a real problem with dogs and was always nervous around larger dogs. The barking was also a problem, but a dog was something that he really wanted so I began my research. In the end, we were lucky enough to find a beagle mix at our local shelter. She was gentle and very submissive, and seemed happy just to have a home. The dog sleeps in his room and gives him a sense of comfort.

A recent study by the Journal of Pediatric Nursing indicated that 94% of autistic children with a dog bonded with that pet. There are other benefits as well. A dog provides unconditional love and many ASD children can find companionship through this relationship. ASD children can engage in live play that can help their social game. But a dog isn’t for every ASD child. You need to consider your child’s needs and sensitivities before you rush to the breeder. So, if you are considering the big plunge into dogdom, here are a few doggy resources to consider.

Service Dog:

A service dog is a dog that has been through extensive training to accommodate the needs of autism or other special needs. If you opt for a service dog you will get a well-trained, calm dog that is geared for all the needs of the child. In accordance with the ADA, these dogs can travel with you, make doctors’ visits with your child to help alleviate anxiety, and even attend school with your child. Some are also trained to notice your child’s agitation and help calm them. The dog comes with certification but they aren’t cheap and can cost upwards of $20,000! The Autism Service Dogs of America helps reduce that cost. They are an accredited dog training group that sets their base price at around $13,000 per dog, but helps the family raise funds toward that financial goal.

Therapy Dog:

These special dogs are trained to work in a therapeutic setting such as hospitals and nursing homes. They help to calm their owners and can even assist in their therapies. They also help to promote social interaction. They are much like a service dog but do not have the accreditation to be in public places. But it is less expensive to train these dogs, anywhere from $150-$300, and training can take place with the owner. There are certain hurdles to jump before a dog qualifies to go through the training, though, such as certification from the American Kennel Club. It’s a good middle option if your child needs a dog that can be helpful like a service dog but doesn’t need the dog with him at all times.

Foster a Dog:

You might not know this, but many shelters have a foster program and this may be a great way to get to know a dog before you decide to adopt it. The programs can be as short as a few weeks to foster until adopted. Many shelters understand that sometimes the bond just doesn’t happen. So, if your heart is set on a rescue dog, this is the way to do it. Be careful, though. Sometimes our kids can get attached, even if the fit isn’t right. So, make sure they know what it’s all about. Just because the fit isn’t right for you, it doesn’t mean that the dog won’t find a home. Because you have very little to go on with a shelter dog, it may take several fostering sessions to find your special lovable new friend.

Companion Dog:

Companion dogs provide emotional support not only to special needs adults and children but to the elderly, and those suffering from chronic illnesses. These dogs are good tempered and take just a little training to learn how to help with anxiety. Companion dogs won’t be as efficient as a service dog will be, but with higher functioning ASD kids, it’s all about the bond between them and the calming nature of the dog. The Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, Basset Hound and Golden Retriever are all dogs bred to stay by their owner’s sides and have calmer temperaments. More than likely, you can find a trainer close to your neighborhood for this kind of training. Just make sure they are CCPDT certified. When considering a companion dog, a breeder is best. As much as we want to help the local shelter, there is some risk. Shelters often don’t know much of the dog’s history and you may not know what you’re getting until it’s too late. It worked for us but we got lucky.

Choosing a furry friend for your special needs child is a big decision. There are a few other things to consider before you bring it home. What needs are you trying to meet with the dog? How has your child reacted to other dog encounters, and is your child old enough to understand how to take care of a few of the dog’s needs? Also remember that this new friend will possibly be with you for a long time and that means with your child too. Once you make the move, enjoy all the joy that a good pet and companion can give.

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