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Service Dogs for Kids on the Autism Spectrum

The Dog Trainer: Quick and Dirty Tips for Teaching and Caring for Your Pet
The Dog Trainer, Quick and Dirty Tips



Quick & Dirty Tips

Scientific American presents The Dog Trainer by Quick & Dirty Tips. Scientific American and Quick & Dirty Tips are both Macmillan companies.

A listener, Bill, writes:

“We have 3 girls, ages 7, 4, and 2, who have never been around dogs. Our 7-year-old is on the autism spectrum and we’ve heard how a dog can be great therapy treatment for kids with autism. So, after months of discussion, research, and persistence from the girls, we got a dog. He’s part German Shorthaired Pointer and maybe part Lab or  Boxer. He’s 6 months old, about 30 pounds, very smart and very active. And he’s never been around kids.  He immediately attached to my wife and he loves me. But the kids are a different story.  He appears nervous or anxious and treats them differently. We’ve done the one-on-one with our oldest and he appears to be changing with her. However, with the other two, he’s still defensive. We’ve had him 5 days now and can return him to his foster parent.  What do you recommend?  Should we have gotten a younger puppy?”

This week, how a service dog may help out a child who has an autism spectrum disorder and some advice for Bill and his family.

Kids on the autism spectrum can have a tough time behaviorally (and their behavior can be tough on others). Some children bolt. Others may have emotional meltdowns because they can’t express their frustration in words or feel utterly overwhelmed by sounds and sights that the rest of us might find merely annoying. And, as most of you probably know, they often have a hard time connecting with other people because they don’t read social cues intuitively.

One common role for an autism service dog is as a tether – literally. The child wears a line connecting her to the dog, and the dog is taught to brace and hold still if the child bolts. Or the child’s parent may cue the dog to sit, which buys Mom or Dad time to catch up. A child with autism may wander in the middle of the night; a service dog sleeping in her bed can alert the household if the child gets up. Some children with autism take comfort from overall gentle pressure and sleep better with the dog against or even on top of them.

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