Service Dogs for Autism

Eileen Bailey Health Guide
  • Autism shows up differently in each person, therefore, there is no “one size fits all” treatment. Speech therapy is used for those with speech delays or are non-verbal. Physical therapy may be helpful if muscle tone is underdeveloped or coordination is an issue. Occupational therapy can help a child or adult with daily skills to aid in being independent and can also include social skills training. Parents of children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) often work with a variety of professionals to develop an individualized treatment plan, based on their child’s specific symptoms. Some families have added a service dog into the mix of services.

    Add This Infographic to Your Website or Blog With This Code:

    Service Dogs and Safety Issues

    One of the main benefits of having a service dog is the increased safety and security they offered. For example, many children with ASD will wander off, cross streets without looking or suddenly take off running. This behavior isn’t just frustrating for parents, it can be extremely dangerous. A service dog, one that is specifically trained to work with individuals with autism, is tethered to the child. He can block the path of a child, refuse to move therefore keeping the child in place, or alert others that the child is trying to wander off.


    Two studies supported this [Burrows and Adams, 2005 and Burrows, Adams and Millman, 2008], with parents reporting the dogs not only prevented the children from running away but were instrumental in providing feelings of security at bedtime and throughout the night-time hours. Parents knew they were would be alerted if their child got out of bed or was exhibiting dangerous behaviors. Parents felt more at ease and reported they were more relaxed and able to sleep better.

    Temple Grandin, in an article “Service Dogs and Autism,” warns that “Safety dogs have to be used carefully to avoid stressing the dog. These animals need time off to play and just be a dog.” [1]

    Social, Learning and Emotional Benefits

    Although there isn’t many studies or definitive research to show the benefits of a service dog on learning, social skills or emotional regulation, many service dog providers believe the children receive much more than just increased safety from having a service dog in their lives.

    Jim Wagner, co-founder of Perfect Fit Canines, says, “Dogs are a calming influence though we really don’t know how or why it happens. One of our dogs knows when a meltdown is coming. He licks his child and the outburst is averted.” [2]  Temple Grandin writes, “These dogs also serve as a “social ice breaker” because other people are often attracted to a dog and will interact more readily with the child. Some individuals with autism really open up and interact with a dog.” [3]

    Other benefits may include:

    • Dogs can halt, redirect or alert someone to dangerous or inappropriate behaviors such as pica or some stimming behaviors.
    • In the case of an emergency, such as a fire, dogs can lead the child to a safe location.
    • There may be a calming effect and improve symptoms of anxiety or agitation.
    • Motor skills and coordination may improve by taking the dog for a daily walk.
    • Independent skills are learned when taking care of the dogs daily needs.
    • Provide love and security.

  • Training a Service Dog

    Add This Infographic to Your Website or Blog With This Code:

    Service dogs start their training in the homes of foster homes as young puppies; this is often on a volunteer basis. The job of the foster family is to get them out in public and get them used to being around many different people. They work with dog trainers to teach basic commands, such as “stop” and “heel” as well as specific commands needed for the family they will be going to stay with.

    Usually, between 12 and 18 months, the dogs are placed with their permanent family. Training it continued and catered to the individual needs of the child with ASD.

    Training a service dog can be up to $20,000. Some service dog organizations help families organize fundraisers or obtain corporate sponsors. The application process to request a service dog can be quite in-depth and many training organizations have a waiting list of families.

    The following are some organizations that work with service dogs:

    Ry-Con Briards

    Paws with a Cause

    Retrieving Freedom, Inc

    A K-9 Campus


    Pawsitive Service Dog Solutions

    Perfect Fit Canines


    “Factors Affecting Behavior and Welfare of Service Dogs for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder,” 2008, Kristen E. Burrows, Cindy L. Adams, S.T. Millman, 2008, Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science, pp 42-62

    [2] “Pet Tales: Dogs Help Autistic Children,” 2013, Feb. 23, Linda Wilson Fuoco, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

    “The Role and Benefits of Autism Service Dogs, 2011, Nov 3, Dr. Thomas Zane, Operation Autism: A Resource Guide for Military Families

    [1] [3] “Service Dogs and Autism,” 2011, Temple Grandin, Autism Asperger’s Digest

    “Service Dogs for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder: Benefits, Challenges and Welfare Implications,” 2005, Kristen E. Burrows, Cindy L. Adams,

Published On: April 18, 2013