What is the best small dog breed for autistic child? What are the characteristics of a dog that are important for life with a child on the spectrum? Are there any breeds to avoid?
A reader emailed me a fascinating question. They were looking for a hypoallergenic and low shedding dog, so they were considering a Poodle mix breed dog. They had one specific requirement, though, they wanted to make sure they picked the best small dog breed for their autistic child.
I did some research for them and helped them find a local assistance dog expert. Word is they are very close to adopting a dog! With permission, I am sharing the question and the results of the research.
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Question: Best Small Dog Breed for Autistic Child?
Cheryl wrote an email to us in April.
Hi, we are looking at adopting a dog into our family. We have two children. Our oldest boy has autism. He is mild on the spectrum but does struggle with particular environments and situations that are unfamiliar. A friend from school has a puppy, and it is helping a lot with some anxiety issues. We are deciding between a support dog or just a regular family dog. What Poodle hybrids would be best? Do you recommend any particular breeders or breeds of dogs? We would strongly prefer a small dog. – Cheryl, a reader of OodleLife via email
How Can Having a Dog Help an Autistic Child?
There are a few different ways that having a dog in the family can help an autistic child. There are two different types of dogs to consider
- Service or assistance dogs with specialized training
- General family pets
Both specially trained assistance dogs and general family pets can have significant benefits for a child with ASD.
- Having a dog can provide a positive social interaction
- Any source of positive social interaction should be prized
- A well-trained dog or specially trained assistance dog can provide frequent positive social interaction
- The experts find it gives the purpose of communication, and something to talk about
- This can help boost interaction and vocabulary in young children with autism
- Having a dog can be a calming presence
- A well-integrated, well behaved and accepted dog can provide an autistic child with comfort and calm
- Many dogs end up sleeping in the room or at the door of their child
- Additional support at home and out and about during the day is always welcome
- A dog is an easy pathway to sustainable responsibility
- For some children, the ability to transition some responsibility behaviors can be incredibly beneficial
- A best friend
- Everyone can always deal with having an extra best friend
- Having the unconditional love of a dog is heartwarming and can provide comfort to many children
Professionally trained service dogs go even further in their ability to support the family and child with autism.
- Dogs can be trained to track and locate the child. The nose of your assistance dog can be an incredible asset for tracking down children who have wandered.
- Tethering and providing a common link in public often see fewer opportunities for a child to wander away in public if this is an issue
- The most amazing thing with professionally trained service dogs is the ability for them to nudge and actively intervene to stop behaviors. Picking a service dog when appropriate is a remarkable asset to your family
Deciding between a family dog and a service dog is no small decision, and you need to make contact with the experts.
- In the USA
- In Australia
- In Canada
- In the UK
If you need any advice for other countries, please drop a comment below.
Top 3 Small Dog Breeds for Autistic Children
If you are considering adopting a family dog, and want a small, non-shedding breed – here are the top 3 picks we recommended for Cheryl. She was looking for the best small dog breed for autistic child but wanted zero shed also.
The following are picked for the attributes or trainability, friendliness to children, and temperament.
The most popular Poodle Mix breed comes in a variety of sizes. A Miniature Labradoodle can weigh much less than 9 kilograms (20 pounds) at its full weight.
The energy levels are appropriate for a young family, but there is typically less energy than a Goldendoodle. They train beautifully with children and are insanely loyal.
The Labradoodle trained well will become a loyal best friend, guide, and protector of your child.
A Bernedoodle is not the first dog you would think of when you think assistance or helper dog for a child with ASD.
The smaller versions of this giant Poodle Mix breed though, are more than just insanely pretty teddy bears – they train remarkably well.
Bernedoodles also get along well with kids. They learn to live with other pets, and even form a relationship of tolerance with cats.
The Australian Bernedoodle is actually a cross between a Labradoodle (choice one above) and a Bernese Mountain Dog – and although larger than what Cheryl was looking for, can be excellent assistance dogs.
A (plain) Poodle
Don’t look past the plain Poodle. They don’t look much like the show dog you are imagining. The Toy Poodle is a perfect small-sized dog for a child with autism.
You can groom them to look like a teddy bear, and they are both non-shedding and fiercely intelligent.
These brainy puppies love to be trained and should make the shortlist when considering a small dog for an autistic child.
Small Dog Breeds to Avoid
The energy level of some breeds when they are puppies means they are less likely to be recommended as a new dog in a family where a child has ASD.
A wonderful breed like the Cockapoo has been seen to be an excellent small dog breed. They may well suit your family – but they do have a reputation for energy and boisterousness as a puppy that needs to be considered.
Caution should also be taken when adopting a breed like the rare Boxerdoodle. Although most owners I have talked to absolutely love the personality of their Boxer-dude, you just don’t know which way it can go.
Some breeds see more frequent success as small dog companions for children with autism. A Labradoodle, Poodle, or Miniature Bernedoodle might be the ideal non-shedding small dog for autistic child.
Consider a professionally trained service or assistance dog. There are amazing organizations and charities worldwide that can help advise whether an assistance dog or family dog is the correct choice for you.