While dogs can be great companions for anyone, they can be significantly important to children with autism.
But, what are the best dogs for autism? Generally speaking, the best dogs for autistic children seem to be breeds that are easy to train and have happy-go-lucky personalities. This includes breeds such as golden retrievers, collies, and poodles.
In this article I’ll be sharing some of the best dog breeds for families with autistic children. Some of them might surprise you!
As someone who grew up with an autistic little brother, I’ve seen first hand how beneficial a furry friend can be for a kid struggling with a disability.
Why Are Dogs Ideal For Kids With Autism?
As most dog owners will tell you (myself included), canines make for loyal companions that can provide joy and unconditional love to humans, no matter who you are.
This is one of the reasons why they can be ideal pets -- and even service animals -- for families with autistic children.
Here are a few additional reasons dogs are ideal for kids with autism:
- They can help build confidence and social skills
- They can provide protection and a sense of security
- They can divert attention away from distractions
With that being said, an autistic child will only benefit from having a dog if you choose the right breed.
Exploring The Best Dogs For Autism
If you’re thinking about bringing home a furry friend you should consider your family dynamic and your child’s sensitivities to make the best decision.
I’m going to help you narrow your search for a four-legged companion by revealing some of the best dogs for autistic children below:
When looking for a family-friendly dog, a lot of parents end up choosing a Golden Retriever.
For those with special needs, especially children, Goldens make for one of the most ideal service animals because they typically have calm and intelligent temperaments.
What makes them so great for kids with autism though is their jubilant personalities mixed with the constant need to please.
They can be patient, loving, gentle, and loyal, which are all traits that make them easy to train and helpful for kids with developmental disabilities such as autism.
In my opinion (based on personal experience) Golden Retrievers are one of the best dogs for autism, if not the best!
Are There Any Downsides to Owning a Golden Retriever?
One thing to keep in mind about Golden Retrievers is their size.
Some of them can grow quite large (up to 75 pounds), so if you don’t have the space to accommodate them, you may find it difficult to own one comfortably.
Saint Bernards are most notable for appearing in the movie Beethoven, which was released in the early 90’s. But, why are they on this list?
These enormous dogs can be surprisingly sweet and gentle which is why they are referred to as ‘gentle giants’.
Additionally, Saint Bernards tend to be patient and are known to have disciplined demeanors.
This allows them to carry out commands and tasks easily, which makes them ideal for special needs kids.
Are There Any Downsides to Owning a Saint Bernard?
There are a few downsides when it comes to owning a Saint Bernard for families with autistic children:
- Size: Saint Bernards are known as massive dogs (weighing anywhere from 140-180 pounds as adults) which means they can overpower small kids and even some adults. If your child gets overwhelmed easily, this may not be the best breed for your family.
- Not Great Service Animals: Saint Bernards don’t typically work well as service animals as, like I mentioned above, they can easily overpower someone. At best, they can make a good therapy dog.
- Stubbornness: These dogs tend to be stubborn at times, so you’ll need patience when training them.
As the name suggests, Labradoodles are literally a cross breed between Labradors and Poodles.
These dogs are known for their distinctly cute curly coats and playful personalities. They are also easy to train and can be very patient dogs.
While Labradoodles, like most dogs on this list, do shed frequently, they are allergy-friendly, so if you or someone in your family has respiratory sensitivities, this breed can be the ideal choice.
They are not hypoallergenic, though, so keep that in mind!
Are There Any Downsides to Owning a Labradoodle?
Every Labradoodle tends to be a bit different in terms of size and appearance. Some may be on the smaller side when fully grown, while others can be medium to large.
This is something to think about when it comes to using Labradoodles as a service animal for autistic children.
As I already mentioned, these breeds (along with Goldendoodles) tend to shed a lot. You’ll need to spend time brushing and grooming them or taking them to a professional to keep their coats under control.
While Golden Retrievers might be my first choice in family-friendly dogs, collies are a close second. In addition to being gorgeous dogs, collies are innately intelligent and eager to please.
This makes them very easy to train as a therapy dog for kids on the autism spectrum.
Personally, I recommend collies for families with autistic children because they are..
- Mild mannered
- Hyper aware of human emotions
- And great with children
Are There Any Downsides to Owning a Collie?
There really aren't many downsides when it comes to owning a collie. However, these are playful dogs that will need a lot of exercise.
If your living situation doesn’t allow for this -- i.e. you live in an apartment with strict rules about noise or you don’t have access to a yard or park -- then you may want to choose another breed.
German Shepherds are probably one of the last dogs you’d think of when it comes to service animals for kids. However, they’re actually one of the best.
There’s a reason German Shepherds are used by police departments across the country (and even the military), they’re one of the most trainable and intelligent breeds you’ll find.
With sharp focus, this breed rarely gets distracted, making them perfect for carrying out tasks and protecting their owners.
Contrary to popular belief, German Shepherds can also be very gentle and sweet.
Are There Any Downsides to Owning a German Shepherd?
- Cautious With Strangers: Because of their protective nature, German Shepherds tend to be weary of strangers. If you have family or friends over often, this may be an issue.
- Power: German Shepherds generally are more on the medium side when it comes to size, but they are strong dogs so they can overpower a child if not trained properly.
- Need a Lot of Exercise: Like many breeds on this list, German Shepherds need a lot of exercise.
Bernese Mountain Dogs
With a combination of intelligence, calm temperament, and size, Bernese Mountain Dogs can be one of the best companions for children with autism.
Known for being able to light up a room with their energy and playfulness, this breed tends to be sensitive to human emotions as well, which means they can be patient and loving.
While not the best service animals due to their size (some of these dogs can get up to 122 pounds), Bernese Mountain Dogs can simply be a great furry friend for a kid with ASD.
Are There Any Downsides to Owning a Bernese Mountain Dog?
There are a few minor issues when it comes to owning a Bernese Mountain dog that some may find off-putting:
- Heavy Shedding: These breeds tend to shed often and heavily. They require consistent grooming and brushing, and won’t be ideal for families with allergies.
- Drooling: If you find dogs that drool a lot gross, then Bernese Mountain Dogs are not the breed for you, as it’s one of their most common traits.
Intelligence and trainability are two of the most sought after traits when it comes to service or emotional support animals for autistic children. Samoyeds have both traits in spades.
They can also be loyal and happy-go-lucky dogs that are eager to please, so as a companion, Samoyeds are ideal pets.
Are There Any Downsides to Owning a Samoyed?
You need to have the time and energy to devote to a Samoyed as they require rigorous training and daily exercise.
Although Newfoundlands are known for their massive size, they are surprisingly great dogs for autistic children. Why?
Despite their size, this breed tends to be easy to train and extremely friendly. They’re also highly intelligent dogs who have a laid-back/relaxed personality.
Newfoundlands have been used for many years as service dogs for children with autism and other mood disorders, which is why I can’t recommend them enough.
Are There Any Downsides to Owning a Newfoundland?
Because Newfoundlands are not that active as a breed, they won’t typically be a great fit if you’re trying to pair them with a highly energetic child.
Staffordshire Bull Terrier
Also known as “nanny dogs”, Staffordshire Bull Terriers are known for being trustworthy, loyal, and docile dogs.
While some may say the opposite about this breed, I think they’re ideal for children with ASD because they are naturally gentle. They’re also highly affectionate, playful, and protective.
Are There Any Downsides to Owning a Staffordshire Bull Terrier?
This breed requires the proper care and training to become good service or therapy animals for families with autistic children. Otherwise, they likely won’t be a good fit.
Who doesn’t love poodles? They’re unique and adorable appearance helps them stand out from other dogs, but they’ve also gained a reputation for being ideal service/therapy dogs.
This is due to the fact that they are easy to train, and can carry out complex tasks whenever you need them to. They’re also hypoallergenic, playful, and gentle.
If you’re looking for an empathetic dog who will be able to sense negative emotions to provide emotional support, then poodles are an incredible option.
Are There Any Downsides to Owning a Poodle?
Poodles aren’t the biggest dog breeds (although some can reach 70 pounds) which means they aren’t as protective by nature.
If you’re looking to provide a sense of security for a child with autism, then a larger breed may be best.
Fully devoted to their owners and fiercely loyal, Great Pyrenees is one of the best service or emotional support dogs on this list.
For autistic children who need a sense of security, the Great Pyrenees is a great fit.
They can be a full-time service dog thanks to their high level of intelligence, which makes them easy to train and capable of answering commands and performing tasks.
Are There Any Downsides to Owning a Great Pyrenees?
Similar to other dogs on this list, the Great Pyrenees requires the proper training and care to work as a service animal for kids with ASD. Training needs to be carried out continuously too.
Additionally, the Great Pyrenees tends to be a very energetic breed, so they will need a lot of exercise on a daily basis.
So What’s the Best Dog Breed For Autism?
When it comes to choosing the best dogs for autism, it’s going to depend on the needs and sensitivities of your child.
Are you looking for a full-time service animal, who can provide protection and carry out commands, or are you simply wanting a companion for your child who will help them build social skills?
You should also consider your child’s personality. If they are energetic, there are breeds (German Shepherds, Golden Retrievers, Collies, etc.) that are a better match than others.
On the other hand, if your child is low energy, you’ll want a breed that won’t overwhelm them (like Newfoundlands, for instance) and won’t require that much exercise and play time.
I recommend you do some additional research on these breeds before making a decision. This will ensure you pick the right furry friend for your family and your child.
About THE AUTHOR
I have had dogs my whole life and have always trained my own dogs with patience and positive reinforcement. My dogs are my life. My family always had dogs growing up. I've trained dogs for clients while working at a local dog daycare. I hope that my research and experiences are helpful to you as I share them here.Read More About Russell Wright