There are few things as remarkable as a guide dog. The fact we can take an entirely different species and teach it how to be a protector is simply astonishing. Yet, these animals are so common now, that it’s easy to take them for granted.
We see them in restaurants, on sidewalks, trotting through supermarkets, and even at the cinema. They are an established part of modern life, so we don’t really get excited about them anymore. In fact, unless you have a personal reason to get to know therapy dogs, it’s hard to grasp the extent of their impact.
Guide dogs and other types of support dog have the potential to change lives. They restore independence and help vulnerable people feel confident and capable. The history of using canines for therapeutic purposes stretches back to the Second World War.
However, it didn’t become routine practice until the seventies. Today, we understand a great deal about the way dogs communicate and which breeds make the best helpers. This has led to a substantial increase in the number of dogs being used for autism therapy.
Learning How to Live with an Autistic Child
Ironically, there is still much we don’t understand about autism. We know it’s defined by difficulties with social interaction and impulse control. When the condition develops in childhood, sufferers tend to struggle with communication.
Some children speak very little, while others struggle to express emotion and can seem very cold to those around them. Autistic children are a big challenge for parents. They shun contact, show little affection, and don’t play well with others.
Despite this, most autistic people are highly intelligent. Many have an extraordinary aptitude for numbers and excel at logical, mechanical tasks. The truth is most autistic individuals have the ability to be successful in life, but they may need lifelong support.
Therapy dogs are ideal for children because they are a calming, nonverbal presence. The child can pet and stroke the animal, and it won’t demand any kind of explanation or understanding from them.
It is non-judgmental, non-threatening, and eager to form a bond that isn’t governed by the complexities of human interaction.
Why Your Child Needs a Reliable Therapy Dog
The fact dogs form such deep bonds with family members is a big part of their appeal. They are adept at reading emotions, even without verbal cues. It means therapy dogs are able to provide comfort and reassurance at exactly the right times.
They can also be trained to interrupt dysfunctional behaviors like persistent rocking, tapping, or spinning. Even more remarkably, you can train a therapy dog to guide and protect a vulnerable child while outside of the home.
Many autism dogs know to immediately sit and anchor a child if they try to run off while in the supermarket or at the park. The pet is attached to the child via a special harness, so sitting or lying down prevents escape.
More than anything else, therapy dogs are a friend for autistic children when other kids, teachers, and even their own parents find it hard to understand them. It’s important to get the right breed though because not all dogs make good protectors. Some varieties are definitely better at providing affection and assistance.
Here are our picks for the top 20 dog breeds for autistic children.
1. Golden Retriever
Golden retrievers are a common choice for the blind because they are extremely intelligent. They’re also highly perceptive and seem to have an uncanny ability to read emotions.
These dogs are gentle, good-natured, and eager to make new friends. Plus, they’re among the easiest breeds to train, so they suit a therapy based role. Of all the breeds, the golden retriever has been associated with therapy the longest.
Many would argue it was the first type of canine to be used in this way. Generally, they’re very low maintenance, but they do need a decent amount of room. They can grow to a hefty size and require daily walks in a safe, open space where they’re free to run around.
2. German Shepherd
Few breeds are as versatile as the German Shepherd. These dogs serve as police assistants, airport sniffers, therapy companions, and more. In fact, there is very little they cannot do with grace and style.
They are particularly good at focusing on complex tasks. They rarely get distracted, and this makes them excellent for guiding duties. They also listen very intently and demonstrate astonishing loyalty.
If you’re looking for a dog you can trust with any job; the German Shepherd is a great choice. However, you must be willing to spend time training your dog if you acquire it as a puppy. The breed needs a structured outlet for its energy. If not trained properly, it can become bored and destructive.
Pugs aren’t traditionally associated with therapeutic roles. However, they make excellent companions. They’re goofy, hugely entertaining to watch, and non-threatening for children who are distrustful of larger breeds.
The pug has a wonderfully sunny disposition, and you’ll rarely see these dogs in a bad mood. It means they’re excellent for autistic youngsters with unpredictable temperaments.
Due to their teeny tiny size, they make little impact as far as mess and household distractions. Although, do be aware that pugs are prone to specific types of health problem. They are at risk of respiratory issues. Make sure to take out insurance if you’re considering owning one.
4. Staffordshire Bull Terrier
If you don’t believe the Staffordshire Bull-Terrier makes a good therapy dog, it’s because you’ve never owned one. Among experts, they’re viewed as superb guides and protectors.
The problem is they’re feared for their strength. While it’s true that Staffies are very strong dogs, they’re only dangerous if they’ve been abused or trained to fight.
This hardened association with aggression just isn’t accurate. In fact, smaller dogs like the Chihuahua and the Chow-Chow are much more combative. German Shepherds are known to be more aggressive, and they are routinely picked to be family dogs. In safe, loving hands, the Staffordshire has every opportunity to become faithful companions.
5. Yorkshire Terrier
From a big, strong breed to another teeny tiny one. The Yorkie is a good match for autism therapy because the breed is eager to please. These dogs love to be needed, so they enjoy fetching, guarding, and supervising.
They may be small in stature, but they’re big in heart and get kids giggling with their funny personalities. This force of character translates into a certain kind of stubbornness. As anybody who has owned a Yorkie Terrier knows, they can be awfully pig-headed.
Don’t be surprised if your dog becomes thick as thieves with his young charge. Together, they’ll push boundaries and do their best to test your patience, but they’ll form an unbreakable bond.
6. St. Bernard
You’ll need a lot of space to accommodate a Saint Bernard. These gentle giants take up heaps of room, so they have a commanding presence. It’s always positive though because the breed is known to be affectionate, loyal, and skilled at carrying out simple tasks.
They may big, but they’re wonderfully fluffy. From a tactile perspective, it’s hard to find a better breed for therapy. They may not be the best choice for those with cleaning fixations. The St Bernard is a prolific drooler and sheds like crazy.
If you can put up with his mess though, your child will have a chance to befriend what might as well be a gigantic teddy bear. He’ll provide company, laughs, affection, and a really comfy pillow.
The Poodle is another dog that is wholly underestimated. Over the years, it has become an accessory breed. For some, it’s designed to look cute and be carried around in handbags. In actual fact, they are highly intelligent.
They also come in a range of sizes. Though even the largest poodles aren’t that big, many people unaware of this variety. The breed is among the best when it comes to obedience training because of its aptitude for following tasks, communicating, and reading emotions.
What you might not know is poodles are hypoallergenic. So, they can be used as therapy pets for autistic children who react badly to animal fur and dander.
8. Labrador Retriever
The Labrador is the most common type of service dog. It is commonly used as a guide for the blind, as it responds well to obedience training. The breed is also very laid back. It’s extremely rare for a Labrador to act aggressively or even get in a bad mood.
They are permanently sunny and great at lifting the mood of autistic charges. Labradors are widely believed to be the best therapy dogs. They demonstrate a commitment and focus which is unparalleled and, as a result, they are trusted with complex tasks.
While they’re most often associated with the blind, studies suggest they are most effective when working with depression and anxiety disorders.
If a dog is good enough for royalty, it’s worth a try in your home. The Corgi is a short-statured working breed that was originally used on farms. They have cheery personalities, never lose their cool, and relish the chance to perform tasks.
They’re also highly social, so it shouldn’t take long for a Corgi to buddy up with your kid. One big perk is their size. Though Corgis are absurdly energetic and love to leap around, they are easier to handle than bigger dogs.
You don’t need a lot of space or a big garden. This little guy can sleep right on the end of the bed or sofa and help an autistic child feel safe. The breed is skilled at listening to commands and takes well to work.
The Vizsla isn’t a very well-known breed. Even the name might sound alien to you. Don’t let this put you off though because they make wonderful pets. Vizslas are among the most robust, athletic, and healthy canines on the planet.
They rarely get sick and have simple, low maintenance needs. You’ll be glad to know they’re remarkably clean too. While the Vizsla isn’t suitable for those with physical disabilities – the breed is too eager to run, leap, and bound – it is a great choice for kids with mood disorders.
This dog is able to develop deep bonds and, once a connection is made, it stays with them forever. Just be mindful of their energetic nature. They’re rarely aggressive, but they can be a bit of a handful.
The Newfoundland is one of the largest breeds on the planet. So, you should only consider owning one if you have plenty of space and a sizeable backyard. Despite their imposing stature, these dogs have a sweet temperament and love spending time with children.
They’re regularly used as therapy animals for kids with autism and mood disorders. The phrase ‘gentle giant’ is a perfect descriptor for these pets. They enjoy bounding and racing around the garden, but they’re also content to curl up on lazy afternoons.
Newfoundlands are easy to train and, simply because of their size, make excellent guard dogs. Just don’t tell anybody how soft they really are under all of that fur.
12. French Bulldog
The French-Bulldog is a great choice if you’d prefer a petite, easily managed pet. The breed is playful, loving, and full of personality. However, due to their small size, these dogs don’t shed much or take up a lot of space.
They’re as happy snoozing in your lap as they are playing fetch at the park. Frenchies are eager to please and never tire of being in company. Like many small breeds, they can be surprisingly stubborn and more than a little bossy.
So, it’s important to provide structured routines and show your little furball who rules the house. If training is started from an early age, these dogs grow up to be naturally naughty, but respectful of the rules (well, most of the time).
The Boxer is another breed that tends to get lumped in with vague discussions about ‘dangerous dogs.’ In fact, it does not appear on the list of dogs commonly blacklisted by insurance companies.
Problems with the breed only really occur if it is not socialized from a young age. When raised as family pets, these dogs become gentle and perceptive protectors.
They are often used for anxiety therapy, as they have a wonderful ability to read mood and atmosphere. It’s true they can be very energetic, but they also have a calm, soothing side. What’s more, they seem able to distinguish between the two and offer the right kind of company, depending on their environment.
14. King Charles Spaniel
This breed was one of the first to be developed as a dog for companionship, as opposed to just work. Not only is it a beauty to look at, but it is also loyal, affectionate, and happy to be by your side.
The King Charles Spaniel is an excellent choice for autistic children who have never been around a dog before. It’s not overly boisterous. There’s no worry about these dogs jumping up at anybody or becoming too much of a handful.
They are good at following orders and show great warmth to people who are familiar. Lots of canine breeds enjoy human company. However, the King Charles Spaniel seems particularly content when surrounded by his owners.
15. Old English Sheepdog
It’s impossible to be unhappy around these big, goofy dogs with their bear-like coats and silly grins. One of the reasons they make such superb therapy dogs is the fact they look so appealing.
Children tend to light up with they see them and get to run their hands through that shaggy, fluffy fur. Fortunately, they’re just as sweet on the inside. Obviously, sheepdogs were bred to be workers.
It means they show obedience, loyalty, focus, and motivation. They can be task-oriented when needed, but they’re total clowns the rest of the time. If your child struggles with communication and needs a steady, supportive companion, you can’t go far wrong with an English Sheepdog.
16. Bichon Frise
The Bichon Frise is another dog that was bred for companionship. It has been loved for centuries, due to its small size and quirky, loving personality. The breed is fond of human contact and relishes time spent among anybody willing to pamper it.
As a therapy dog, it is cheerful, uplifting, and devoted to its charge. This type of dog is often used as a therapy animal for groups of children. It does not spook easily, so loud noises aren’t usually a problem.
It’s generally very tolerant of even the youngest children. In fact, it’s best to keep an eye on babies and toddlers. They’re far more likely to cause damage to a Bichon Frise than it is to harm them.
17. Bernese Mountain Dog
If you want your dog to look more like a cuddly toy than a fierce guardian, you might consider the Bernese Mountain breed. Like most big canines, they used to work on farms.
They can grow to an incredible height, so it’s not hard to see why they excel at strength based tasks. Although, it’s worth noting that experts believe they make even better family dogs.
The Bernese is exceptionally calm and level-headed. These dogs rarely get anxious and are very sure of themselves. However, this doesn’t manifest itself in stubbornness as is the case with some other animals. The only downside is they can take longer to train. They tend to mature a little later than most similarly sized breeds.
For many, the Dachshund is a funny looking dog. You may know it by its even funnier nickname of ‘sausage dog.’ With its distinctive long body and floppy ears, it is a unique breed and, thanks to Pixar, now quite familiar to children.
There’s a sausage dog in the Toy Story movies, and this alone might have your kid desperate for one. Dachshunds can be surprisingly fierce when bred for work. They were originally used as badger hunters, and they are a great example of why looks are deceiving.
If left untrained, they can become aggressive. However, if raised in a loving, structured environment, these dogs grow into obedient, loyal companions.
As their name suggests, Labradoodles are a cross breed. They are a mixture of Labrador and Poodle. This means they’re smaller than a full Lab and they have a fluffy, shaggy coat. They’re highly intelligent and learn remarkably fast.
As a result, they can be trained quickly and rarely forget a lesson. Like Poodles, this breed is hypoallergenic, making it a good choice for those who react badly to animal fur.
While all of the breeds listed above have been identified as ‘good for therapy,’ the Labradoodle has a specific reputation as an autism therapy dog. Children who bond with these animals express greater confidence, self-assurance, and social interaction.
You probably know Chihuahuas are among the smallest of all breeds. Therefore, they make excellent therapy dogs for those who travel and spend a lot of time outside the home.
While they can’t fetch anything bigger than a bouncy ball, they are friendly, energetic, and eager to please. These dogs love people, children especially, and relish all kinds of attention.
They need to be properly trained because they do get willful and stubborn otherwise (small dogs are always the nighties). Also, they may not be suitable for largely vacant households. Chihuahuas don’t like being left alone for too long.
They become destructive and start to tear up the house. However, they thrive in loving company and show extreme devotion to their owners.
Why the Bond between a Child and Their Dog Is Irreplaceable
Often, dogs can elicit emotional responses from autistic children even when all other avenues have failed. We’re only just starting to understand why this might be the case. We do know that pets provide a sense of solidity and stability without being threatening.
For many autistic youngsters, it’s helpful to feel responsible for another living creature. It teaches patience, compassion, and the value of companionship in a language that is universal. While verbal development may be impaired, everybody understands the love shared by a child and his devoted dog.
You can also read:
- The 20 Best “Off the Leash” Dog Breeds
- The 20 Best Mixed Dog Breeds in the World
- The Best and Worst Dog Breeds for College Students
- The 20 Worst Dog Breeds for First Time Owners
- 20 Things That Only Weimaraner Owners Would Understand