Best Pet Dogs For Autism

April 16, 2024

Understanding Autism And Down Syndrome

Individuals with autism and Down syndrome face unique challenges and have distinct characteristics. Understanding the differences between these conditions and their impact on families is crucial in providing appropriate support and care.

Differentiating the Conditions

Autism and Down syndrome are separate conditions, each with its own set of characteristics. Autism, also known as Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), is a developmental disorder that affects communication, social interaction, and behavior. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), 1 in 44 children in the US today are affected by autism. People with autism may have difficulty with social skills, exhibit repetitive behaviors, and have specific interests or sensory sensitivities.

On the other hand, Down syndrome is a genetic disorder caused by the presence of an extra copy of chromosome 21. It leads to physical and intellectual disabilities. Individuals with Down syndrome often have distinct facial features, delayed development, and may experience cognitive challenges. While some individuals with Down syndrome may also have autism, it is important to recognize that these are separate conditions and not all individuals with Down syndrome have autism.

Impact on Families

Both autism and Down syndrome have a significant impact on families. Parents and caregivers of individuals with autism or Down syndrome often face unique challenges and require additional support. The demands of caring for a child with these conditions can be overwhelming at times, both emotionally and physically.

Research from the University of Lincoln found that having a pet dog can make a difference in confidence levels, help reduce anxiety, improve communication, and help families do more together, benefiting both the child with autism and their parents. The presence of a dog can bring a sense of comfort and emotional support to the entire family.

Moreover, dogs can benefit children with autism by preventing self-harming behaviors, helping with balance, grounding the child during an episode, and tracking and locating the child if they wander off [1]. The unconditional love and companionship provided by dogs can have a positive impact on the overall well-being of individuals with autism and their families. Dogs can help create a calming and structured environment, reduce stress levels, and contribute to improved social interaction and communication skills.

Understanding the unique characteristics of autism and Down syndrome, as well as their impact on families, is essential in providing appropriate support and care. While dogs can provide emotional support and assistance, it is important to consider individual needs and consult with professionals to determine the most suitable approach for each family and individual.

Benefits of Dogs for Individuals with Autism

Dogs can have a profound impact on the lives of individuals with autism, providing them with various benefits that enhance their well-being and quality of life. Here, we will explore two significant advantages: emotional support and companionship, as well as assistance in daily activities.

Emotional Support and Companionship

Research from the University of Lincoln has shown that autistic children experience fewer meltdowns when in the presence of a pet dog, and their parents' stress levels are significantly lowered. Dogs have a unique ability to provide unconditional love and emotional support, creating a sense of security and comfort for individuals with autism [2].

For children with autism, who may struggle with social interactions and communication, dogs can serve as non-judgmental companions. The presence of a dog can help reduce anxiety and improve confidence levels, encouraging social engagement and facilitating improved communication skills. The bond formed between the child and the dog can be a source of immense joy and emotional connection.

Assistance in Daily Activities

Dogs can also play a crucial role in assisting individuals with autism in their daily activities. They can be trained to perform specific tasks that cater to the unique needs of each individual. Some of the ways dogs can provide assistance include:

Choosing the right dog breed for autism support is crucial. Some breeds are known for their gentle nature, intelligence, and trainability, making them well-suited for individuals with autism and their specific needs. Labrador Retrievers and Golden Retrievers are often considered excellent choices due to their gentle, intelligent, and highly trainable nature. Poodles, known for being intelligent, hypoallergenic, gentle, and eager to please their owners, are also suitable companions for children with autism.

By providing emotional support, companionship, and assistance in daily activities, dogs can make a remarkable difference in the lives of individuals with autism. The bond formed between a child and their dog can be transformative, providing comfort, stability, and an unwavering source of love and understanding.

Best Dog Breeds for Autism Support

Choosing the right dog breed is crucial when considering a companion for a child with autism. Certain breeds possess qualities that make them well-suited to provide support and assistance. Here are some of the best dog breeds for autism support:

Labrador Retrievers and Golden Retrievers

Labrador Retrievers and Golden Retrievers are highly regarded as service and companion dogs for children with autism. These breeds possess a unique combination of gentle nature, intelligence, and trainability, making them ideal for providing support to individuals with autism. They are known for their patience and ability to adapt to various situations.

Poodles and Labradoodles

Poodles are another excellent choice for children with autism. They are intelligent, hypoallergenic, and eager to please their owners, making them well-suited for individuals with special needs. Poodles are known for their gentle nature and adaptability, making them great companions for children with autism.

Labradoodles, a crossbreed between Labrador Retrievers and Poodles, have gained popularity among families with children with autism. They inherit the intelligence and trainability of both parent breeds, along with minimal shedding and an allergy-friendly coat. Labradoodles are known for their fun-loving personality and ease of training, making them suitable as therapy dogs for children with autism [4].

Bernese Mountain Dogs and Newfoundlands

Bernese Mountain Dogs are calm, affectionate, highly intelligent, and easy to train. These attributes make them great companions for children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) as loyal family pets [4]. Their gentle nature and willingness to please make them an excellent choice for providing comfort and support to children with autism.

Newfoundlands, known as gentle giants, are well-suited for children with autism due to their patient and affectionate nature. They are great with kids and have a natural instinct to provide deep pressure therapy, which can be beneficial for individuals with sensory needs. However, it's important to note that Newfoundlands require regular grooming and are prone to certain health problems.

When considering a dog breed for autism support, it's essential to assess the individual needs and preferences of the child. Each breed has its own unique characteristics, and finding the right match can greatly enhance the emotional well-being and overall quality of life for both the child and the dog.

Training and Cost of Autism Assistance Dogs

When it comes to autism assistance dogs, proper training is essential to ensure they can effectively support individuals with autism. Additionally, it's important to consider the cost associated with training and maintaining these specialized dogs.

Training Process and Requirements

Autism assistance dogs undergo a rigorous training process to prepare them for their role. Organizations like Dogs for Good, for example, provide extensive socialization and training lasting nearly two years for each autism assistance dog before they are partnered with a family. This training ensures that the dogs can adapt to different environments and handle public places they may be required to visit as assistance dogs.

Training an autism assistance dog requires patience, consistency, and a positive attitude from both the owner and the dog. On average, a service dog requires at least 120 hours of training spread over six months, including public training and specialized skills [7]. This training is aimed at teaching the dog to assist with specific tasks related to autism, such as tethering to prevent wandering, providing deep pressure therapy, or alerting to sensory overload.

Cost Considerations

The cost of training and supporting an autism assistance dog partnership throughout its lifetime can be significant. For example, Dogs for Good estimates that it costs over £21,000 to train and support an autism assistance dog partnership. However, it's important to note that the cost may vary depending on the organization and the specific needs of the individual with autism.

It's also worth mentioning that organizations like Dogs for Good are limited in the number of autism assistance dogs they can place each year due to the intensive training required. They currently place around ten autism assistance dogs per year and provide ongoing support to around fifty partnerships.

For families who may not have access to an autism assistance dog, there is an alternative option. Dogs for Good offers a Family Dog service, which provides workshops to train well-trained pet dogs to bring significant benefits to families with a child with autism. These workshops help parents source, select, handle, and train a pet dog to respond to the needs of their child with autism, benefiting over 1,200 families to date.

Considering the training process and cost associated with autism assistance dogs is crucial for families seeking these specialized companions. It's important to explore different organizations, understand the training requirements, and weigh the financial commitment in order to make an informed decision that best suits the needs of individuals with autism and their families.

Autism Assistance Dogs vs. Emotional Support Animals

When it comes to supporting individuals with autism, there are different options available, including autism assistance dogs and emotional support animals. While both play important roles in providing comfort and companionship, there are distinct differences in their roles and responsibilities, as well as their public access rights.

Roles and Responsibilities

Autism assistance dogs are specifically trained to assist individuals with autism by completing tasks that directly alleviate symptoms of the condition. These dogs offer a range of support, including regulating walking speed, responding to unsafe behaviors like bolting, and providing deep pressure through head or full-body rests, which can have a calming effect and help interrupt repetitive behaviors [6]. Their training is tailored to meet the specific needs of individuals with autism, making them highly attuned to their partners' behaviors and providing a calming focus.

On the other hand, emotional support animals provide comfort and support to individuals with various conditions, such as depression, anxiety, or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Unlike autism assistance dogs, emotional support animals are not trained to perform specific tasks. Instead, their presence and companionship offer emotional support and help alleviate symptoms associated with mental health conditions.

Public Access Rights

In terms of public access rights, there are differences between autism assistance dogs and emotional support animals. Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), service dogs, including autism assistance dogs, are granted broader public access rights. They are allowed to accompany their handlers in various public places, including restaurants, stores, and public transportation. This includes access to areas where pets are typically not allowed.

On the other hand, emotional support animals are mainly covered under housing laws, granting individuals the right to keep them in housing situations that might otherwise have pet restrictions. However, their public access rights are more limited compared to service dogs. Emotional support animals are not granted the same level of access to public spaces as service dogs, and their access is primarily limited to housing and transportation covered by specific laws.

Understanding the distinctions between autism assistance dogs and emotional support animals can help individuals and families make informed decisions about the type of support that best suits their specific needs. Whether it's the task-oriented assistance provided by autism assistance dogs or the emotional support offered by emotional support animals, both can contribute to the well-being and quality of life of individuals with autism.

Family Dog Service by Dogs for Good

Dogs for Good, an organization dedicated to improving the lives of individuals with disabilities, offers a Family Dog service designed to help families with a child diagnosed with autism. This service recognizes that while an assistance dog may be suitable for some families, a well-trained pet dog can also bring significant benefits to the family dynamic.

Workshop Benefits for Families

The Family Dog workshops provided by Dogs for Good are specifically designed to assist parents in sourcing, selecting, handling, and training a pet dog that can respond to the needs of their child with autism. These workshops provide invaluable guidance and support to families, equipping them with the knowledge and skills necessary to integrate a dog into their daily lives.

The benefits of participating in the Family Dog workshops are numerous. Families have reported improvements in their child's social interaction, communication skills, and emotional well-being. The presence of a well-trained pet dog can provide comfort and companionship, reducing anxiety and stress levels for both the child and the family as a whole. Additionally, the structured training provided in the workshops helps to establish a positive and harmonious relationship between the child and the dog.

Over 1,200 families have already benefited from the Family Dog workshops offered by Dogs for Good, highlighting the effectiveness and popularity of this service in the autism community.

Training and Support Offered

Dogs for Good's Family Dog service goes beyond the workshops, providing ongoing training and support to families. They understand that each family's needs are unique and offer personalized assistance to ensure the successful integration and training of the pet dog.

The training process includes teaching the dog appropriate behaviors and responses to specific cues and commands that are relevant to the child's needs. Dogs for Good's experienced trainers work closely with families to develop a training plan tailored to their specific circumstances.

Throughout the training journey, families are provided with ongoing support and guidance. This includes access to resources, follow-up consultations, and the opportunity to connect with other families who have participated in the program. The aim is to empower families to continue building a positive relationship with their pet dog, ensuring the long-term success of the program.

By offering the Family Dog service, Dogs for Good recognizes the unique benefits that a well-trained pet dog can bring to families with a child diagnosed with autism. Through their workshops, training, and ongoing support, they are making a positive impact in the lives of these families, enhancing the well-being and quality of life for both the child and the entire family unit.

References

[1]: https://www.servicedogtrainingschool.org/blog/best-dog-breeds-autism-children-families/

[2]: https://www.dogsforgood.org/2017/03/10-ways-dogs-are-helping-people-with-autism/

[3]: https://www.abtaba.com/blog/dog-breeds-for-autism

[4]: https://www.autismparentingmagazine.com/choosing-autism-therapy-dog-breed/

[5]: https://usserviceanimals.org/blog/best-dog-breeds-for-autism/

[6]: https://www.dogsforgood.org/2019/04/what-does-it-take-to-train-an-autism-assistance-dog/

[7]: https://usserviceanimals.org/blog/training-your-own-autism-service-dog/

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