There’s a special bond that happens between a child and a dog. Many breeds make an excellent addition to your family, especially when you have young children and are looking for a protector and playmate for your little one. But what if your child has special needs?
The diagnosis of autism is on the rise, and it now affects 1 in 68 children. In fact, autism is one of the fastest growing developmental disorders in the United States, with no medical detection or cure.
Dogs and children with autism
Although there is no cure, there are certainly ways to make your child’s life with autism easier. Children with autism often have a hard time expressing their emotions and might have social phobias, separation anxiety, and mild to severe anxiety. That’s where a friendly, loyal, and patient breed dog can help your child to overcome these tendencies and help to calm your child.
One study found 67% of families with children diagnosed with autism owned dogs, and 94% of parents reported their child with autism had formed a special bond with the dog. Read on to see which dog breeds could be the right fit for your family.
1. Golden retriever
No list of family-friendly dogs — specifically for children with autism spectrum disorders — would be complete without the golden retriever. Goldens are gentle, patient, loving, loyal, and exceptionally easy to train. This breed has a calm temperament and decent intelligence, which is why they are often trained as service or therapy dogs.
Simply put, if you’re hunting for a forever friend who can help benefit your child with autism, it doesn’t get much better than the golden retriever.
2. Saint Bernard
The Saint Bernard is exceedingly gentle for his size. Although he might have a bit of a stubborn nature, he is also patient, sweet, and gentle with children, making him a good option for families with children who have autism.
Saint Bernard’s Service Dog Academy is a nonprofit group that breeds, trains, and places this dog in homes of children ages 2 to 6 who are newly diagnosed with autism. And so far it has seen tons of positive results with this early intervention.
Often called the “gentle giant,” a Newfoundland can be a great option for children with autism. Incredibly friendly and easy to train, this pup has a high level of intelligence but isn’t overly hyperactive, which could stress your child rather than calm him. It’s one of the top dog breeds for families and is a natural guardian and protector.
Bred as a cross between a Labrador and poodle, the Labradoodle is a popular choice for families who have a child with autism. Labradoodles come in all sizes and colors and are rarely a 50-50 split of both breeds but might instead favor one or the other. Either way, they are great family dogs and easy to train because of their high levels of intelligence. They are also popular therapy dogs, thanks to these favorable characteristics.
5. Labrador retriever
Like golden retrievers, Labradors make excellent family pets thanks to their fair intelligence and high degree of trainability. Patient and loving, Labs are gentle, sweet pups who get along with people, dogs, and other pets, too. They are also a popular choice for therapy dogs because of how easy they are to train — and how kind they are to everyone they meet.
For families of children with autism who also suffer from allergies, poodles are a great choice. Obedient, smart, and full of enthusiasm, poodles might not be the first breed you picture when you think of a therapy dog. But their trainability and eagerness to please make them well-suited to the task. Plus, because they don’t typically shed, they are ideal for families of allergy sufferers who don’t want to sacrifice all the benefits of dog ownership.
7. German shepherd
As with the other breeds on the list, intelligence and trainability are the top traits that make the German shepherd a top pick for kids with autism. The naturally protective instinct of this breed makes him a great all-around pick for families. And because he is both gentle and loyal, he makes a great service or therapy dog, too. With the right training, the noble German shepherd would make a perfect addition to your family.
Remember Lassie? This loyal breed is a quintessential family dog, and his eagerness to please and innate intelligence makes him easy to train. Gentle, mild-mannered, and good with kids, the collie is also sensitive to human emotions, which is an important trait when you’re talking about children on the spectrum.
Friendly with both family and strangers, the Samoyed is one of those breeds that always looks like she’s smiling. This clever dog is easy to train and eager to please, making it a great companion for the entire family — including children with autism. Just know it can be highly energetic, so daily exercise and training are a must.
10. Great Pyrenees
You won’t find a more devoted dog than the Great Pyrenees. Originally used for guarding flocks, this breed has a gentle temperament and a fierce devotion to its family. A Great Pyrenees is gentle with children, making it an ideal match for children diagnosed with autism.
11. Bernese mountain dog
Loyal, sensitive, devoted, and gentle — the Bernese mountain dog has all the qualities you should be seeking when you’re hunting down a breed for a child diagnosed with autism. Intelligent enough to train easily, this easygoing breed will instantly become an integral part of the family.
Not all dog breeds for kids with autism are big. In fact, beagles are a great choice, thanks to their friendliness toward their family and strangers alike. This joyful pup will quickly become your child’s new best friend. And his smaller stature and friendly face might make him better suited to kids who aren’t as naturally comfortable around dogs. A word of caution: Beagles require proper training because they often want to take off following their noses. So be sure to put in the effort.
14. Pit bull
Pit bull terriers might have a conflicting reputation, but they are also referred to as “nanny dogs,” meaning they’re naturally inclined to be gentle around children. And with the proper training and care, they are incredibly devoted to their families. Playful, affectionate, and outgoing, these protectors can be the perfect fit for your child with autism.
Which dog is right for you?
In the end, it all comes down to making an informed decision based on your family’s unique needs. Loyal, friendly, calm, and patient dog breeds are the best option when you are looking to find a companion for your child with autism.
Companion dogs are family pets and can be any breed — though you should choose a dog who’s easy to train. Service dogs require extensive training and certification. They can be beneficial for children with autism who require extra attention, such as if they are prone to epileptic seizures or experience outbursts in social settings. Therapy dogs also might be trained, though not as rigorously as service dogs. They offer affection and comfort to your child with autism.
Read More: 15 of the Most Popular Dog Breeds in America