Empowering the Special Needs Community
13 of the Best Dog Breeds for Autism
There are few bonds stronger than the relationship between a child and their dog, primarily when the four-legged companion serves as a security shield and trusted protector.
While most kids benefit significantly from growing up with a family dog, it has been proven to be even more beneficial for children with autism. In one study published by the national institute of health, researchers found that 67% of families with autistic children had dogs, and of that 67%, 94% of the parents reported their autistic children had formed a special bond with the dog.
If you’ve decided to add a dog to your family for your child, you may be wondering, “What breed of dog is best for autism?”
Here’s a list of the top 13 dog breeds for a child with autism:
No list of family-friendly dogs would be complete without the Golden Retriever. This traditional breed is a top choice for service dogs of any variety and families with special needs children, specifically for children with autism spectrum disorder. Their happy-go-lucky personality, combined with a constant need to please their owners, makes Golden Retrievers an excellent choice for families with an autistic child. Gentle, patient, loving, and loyal Golden’s have great personalities making them incredibly easy to train. This gentle breed has a calm temperament and decent intelligence, which is why they’re often trained as emotional support or therapy dogs. Simply put, if you’re looking for a forever friend who can have a significant impact on your child, look no further than the Golden Retriever.
Most may recognize this gentle giant from the 1992 Box-Office hit Beethoven, but for the purposes of this list, the Saint Bernard has made it to the top of our lineup for his disciplined demeanor. The Saint Bernard is exceedingly gentle despite its large size. Although this breed might have a bit of a stubborn nature, Saint Bernards are also patient, gentle, and sweet with small children, making them an excellent option for families with autistic children. These dogs are loyal and simple tasks are a breeze for them. Saint Bernards are well suited to work as therapy dogs, but due to their large size, it would be difficult for them to be service dogs full-time as they may unintentionally overpower a small child.
Bred as a cross between a Poodle and a Labrador, the Labradoodle is a popular choice for families of children with autism. Since most breeds on this list may shed excessively, Labradoodles or Goldendoodles are great options for those who don’t want a lot of excess hair around the house. While Labradoodles are not hypoallergenic, they are allergy-friendly, boosting their appeal to families who have respiratory sensitivities. This playful pooch comes in all sizes and colors, and they are rarely a 50-50 split of each breed, commonly resembling one more than the other. Either way, Labradoodles make great family dogs and are easy to train because of their high levels of intelligence. Thanks to these favorable characteristics, they are also a popular choice for therapy dogs. If you do go for this breed, be sure to account for brushing time and grooming costs.
Lassie, is that you!? This loyal breed is the quintessential family dog, and their innate intelligence, along with their eagerness to please make them easy to train as therapy dogs for autistic children. Mild-mannered, gentle, and good with kids, the Collie has been bred to be highly aware of human emotions, which is an important trait for parents considering a dog for a child on the spectrum. This elegant breed is naturally playful but will not wander off from their owners, making Collies the perfect match for newbie dog owners.
If a protector is what you’re looking for, then a German Shepherd is the dog for your family. Highly regarded as one of the smartest canines, German Shepherds are usually the first choice when it comes to recruiting for military and private security. German Shepherds are generally very focused and do not get distracted easily. Because of this, they will listen to their owner intently and can handle complicated tasks. Although they are cautious with strangers, German Shepherds are gentle and loyal. They can easily keep up with a kid’s energetic nature or tone down as needed.
Bernese Mountain Dog
Bernese Mountain dogs are another great family-dog breed. Their combination of size, calm temperament, and intelligence makes them especially practical as companions for a child with ASD. Bernese Mountain dogs are both eager to please and easy to train, not to mention their heartwarming presence that could put a smile on anyone’s face. They love being of service, and they are pretty sensitive, which means they need plenty of love and affection. This exchange of love will help foster an even stronger bond between pup and kid. Unfortunately, the breed is known for drooling and heavy shedding, which some families may find off-putting. Both of these, however, are minor issues for such otherwise-awesome dogs.
The Samoyed is an intelligent dog that is easy to train and eager to please, making them the perfect companion for your entire family, especially for a child on the spectrum. Fluffy and fun-loving, the Samoyed is one of those breeds that always look like they’re smiling. Just know that they can be highly energetic, so daily exercise and rigorous training are both a must.
Believe it or not, this massive breed is another top choice for autistic children. They are very friendly and easy to train, not to mention incredibly intelligent. Despite their size and imposing look, Newfoundlands are one of the sweetest breeds on this list. While they may be large, Newfoundlands aren’t particularly active dogs, so only consider adopting one if your child is less-energetic. Usually used as therapy canines for children with mood disorders and autism, this breed’s long history of serving children with special needs is a major assurance to parents. This fluffy pooch deserves very serious consideration by parents of children with autism.
While Beagles may not be ideal for all kids with autism spectrum disorder, they may be precisely what some other families need. Unlike the other gentle giants on this list, Beagles usually max out at about 30 pounds! Rarely intimidating to anyone, this compact breed will often greet every person they encounter with a wagging tail and smiling expression. They are playful, loving, and gentle but beagles can be pretty vocal dogs as well. Their barking may be irritating to some kids, so be sure to take that into account especially if your child has sound sensitivities. Beagles are also independent by nature, so training them can be a bit challenging. They are smart dogs, but they care less about doing your bidding and more about playing and doing their own thing.
Staffordshire Bull Terrier
Staffordshire Bull Terriers may have a conflicting reputation, but they have proved to be docile, trustworthy, and loyal companions. Referred to as “nanny dogs,” these Terriers are naturally inclined to be gentle around small children. What better friend could any child ask for? With the proper training and care, these dogs can grow incredibly close and devoted to their families. Affectionate, playful, and outgoing, these protectors can be the perfect fit for kids with autism.
Much like the Golden Retriever, Poodles have earned an impressive reputation as both therapy and service canines. Thanks to this breed’s keen intelligence, they can be taught to perform complex tasks when needed. These pint-sized pooches are smart and obedient to their owners. Poodles are also hypoallergenic, which makes them the perfect dog for families with members suffering from allergies. Due to their playful yet gentle ways, Poodles make for the ideal companions to autistic children. Empathetic by nature, poodles become attuned to their owners’ feelings and can sense negative emotions as they arise, making them the perfect emotional support dog. If you want a support dog for your kid who prefers a small and less furry breed, Poodles are your best bet.
Good luck finding a more devoted dog than the Great Pyrenees. The Great Pyrenees is gentle but with the fiercest loyalty to their human companions. This behavior trait makes them an excellent match for kids with autism who need a guardian and a dependable companion. If properly trained, this breed can be a full-time service canine. Due to their high level of intelligence, this breed can easily be taught to answer commands and perform specific tasks. Keep in mind that the Great Pyrenees needs ample exercise each day and continuous training to ensure they are properly disciplined.
So What’s the Best Dog Breed for Autism?
It really depends on your family and child with autism. Although these service dog breeds for autism are some of the most reliable and tested canines when it comes to helping children with special needs, it doesn’t mean other dog breeds and mixes aren’t going to be a good match. Just make sure to do your research to find a dog with a good temperament, ability to be trained, and the right maintenance and energy level for your family. And remember, before allowing a dog in your home and around your child, it’s imperative to match your child’s personality to the dog you ultimately choose. So… Which breed stands out to you?
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