Top 5 Service Dog Breeds for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder

Top 5 Service Dog Breeds for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder

autism service dog

A 2013 study suggests that 1 in 45 children aged 3-17 have been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder and in 2014 the US Center for Disease Control estimated that 3.5 million Americans live with an ASD. Most likely due to better diagnosis techniques, the prevalence of ASD in US children increased nearly 120 percent over the 10-year span from 2000 to 2010. And, as always, man has turned to his best friend for assistance and the dog has unique qualities that make him great for new his role.

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According to Project Chance, “autism assistance dogs are unique to the world of dogs helping people. Unlike the guide dog who helps with physical tasks, the autism assistance dog is there more for emotional support.”

We’re going to list the top 5 candidates for autism service dogs in just a moment, but let’s look at some of the ways a service dog can help a child with ASD.

A service dog can work wonders for a child with autism, helping to soothe an autistic child who is having an emotional outburst due to environmental stimuli or feeling overwhelmed. The therapy dog can reduce some of the repetitive behaviors seen in autistic children, such as rocking back and forth for hours. He can calm a child helping him fall asleep at night and give a child the self-confidence needed to interact socially. Some therapy dogs can even be trained to prevent an autistic child from wandering off by circling the child and barking to alert caregivers or can be harnessed to the child.

So what are we looking for in a dog for an autistic child? According to Danielle Foster, Executive Director of National Service Dogs, “When you’re dealing with autism, you need dogs that are very, very calm, very quiet, very laid back.“ [0:54 What Happened When Autistic Boy Got A Dog?] Dogs who are loyal, friendly, forgiving of a child’s mistakes, understanding and in tune with the child’s needs are ideal.

While almost any dog, with proper training, can become a service dog, we’ve chosen to exclude breeds with traits that may make them less adept at being autism service dogs. For example, herding dogs, although highly intelligent and make great companions have a tendency to nip as part of their herding behavior. Extra large breeds may intimidate a child and the smaller breeds may not be robust enough for the child or the child may disagree with yapping.

But you may find a few surprises on this list.

Now we present the Top 5 service dog breeds for children with autism.

1. Labrador Retriever

Labrador Retriever Autism Service Dog
Labrador Retriever

Yes, we’re starting this list with number one, because well, it was just way too obvious. Over the past several decades, the Labrador Retriever has proven himself among the highest qualified breeds as a service dog companion. As a breed, he’s a natural companion and meets all the requirements for the task.

Among the many benefits he can bring to the life of an autistic child is the way he builds the child’s confidence, helps the child to reduce anxiety attacks, stimulates his imagination and desire to communicate, encourages his self-control and – as he is a very sociable and loving dog- he is great at integrating a child into his environment.

2. Golden Retriever

Golden Retriever
Golden Retriever

Like his cousin the Labrador, the Golden Retriever is the quintessential family dog. He is the first breed that most parents think of when choosing a family dog for their child. This is because he has all the right characteristics to be a fantastic companion. He is also one of the special breeds that can become an amazing assistance dog owing to his docile, safe and adaptable personality.

He is very affectionate with children and is great at reading emotions. For example, if one day the child is more active and happy, the dog will encourage him to play and have lots of fun together. If on the other hand, the child feels a bit subdued, the Golden Retriever will stay by his side and maintain a very quiet position, almost saying “I’m here when you need me” while at the same time transmitting all his love to the child.

It might be noted that many service dog organizations often use a Golden Retriever / Labrador Retriever Mix as their preferred service dog. This hybrid breed does have a name, it’s called a Goldador and combines the sensitivity of the Golden with the tolerance of the Lab.

3. Labradoodle or Goldendoodle


The Labradoodle or Goldendoodle take the qualities of either breed above and mix that with the intelligence and hypoallergenic nature of the Poodle. You get a breed that makes the perfect service dog for the autistic child that suffers from allergies. Yes, we’re combining two different breeds, but the similarities are so close that we are including them as one. Like their pure-bred counterparts, the Labradoodle and the Goldendoodle exhibit all the friendly, nurturing behaviors needed for an autism service dog, without all the sneezing and watery eyes. You may also find a Golden Retriever Labrador Retriever-Poodle mix in use, but you’re on your own on what to call the breed. A Goldadoradoodle?


Service Dog Breeds for Children with Autism

4. Staffordshire Bull Terrier

Staffordshire Bullterrier
Staffordshire Bullterrier

Yes, he is a Pit Bull (not to be confused with the also awesome American Pit Bull Terrier and American Staffordshire Terrier both of which are excellent family dogs). The Staffordshire Bull Terrier is a dog that makes an impression because of his muscular and robust frame. However, behind its strong physical appearance lies a very docile dog that is considered one of the best breeds to accompany an autistic child. In fact, he is known to be excellent with children.

The Staffordshire Bull Terrier is loyal, trustworthy and has a phenomenal character. And, he loves to be together with his family. You’ll see him accompany the child to wherever the child wants to go, even when it’s time to go to bed. He is truly affectionate and obedient, and if trained properly, this dog will provide the best care for the child. Another plus is that he has absolutely no problem chilling on the couch all day if that’s what the child wants to do.

5. A Mutt

Yes, a mutt. And while we can’t specifically call him a breed, on average, your standard run of the mill mongrel has very stable mental and physical attributes and is not “bred” for extremes like many purebred dogs. These characteristics, or lack thereof, can make a mix breed a competent family pet as well as a service dog. While we highly recommend professional counseling on the selection of a dog for an autistic child, for a high functioning autistic child, a trip to a local animal rescue organization may be beneficial. Keep in mind that most animal shelters also house many purebred dogs as well. Many shelters also have foster programs that aim at socializing the dog before adopting him to a permanent home or “forever home”. There’s a high likelihood that he has been fostered with children, but it never hurts to ask a lot of questions before adopting a pet for any child.

This video is for edutainment purposes only and I am not qualified as a child psychologist or a professional dog trainer. When making a choice for your child, we encourage you to seek professional advice and will provide links to professional assistance dog organizations in the description of the video.

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