The Best Dog Breeds for Autistic Children
By Kyle Fiechter, eHow Contributor
updated October 07, 2011
Autistic disorder (or "classic" autism), according to the CDC, is an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) that usually
involves "significant language delays, social and communication challenges, and unusual behaviors and interests"
in people who manifest the disorder. One way to help autistic children develop social skills and reduce "stimming"
(self stimulating behaviors -- such as spinning, shouting and hitting) is to pair them with a specially trained dog.
According to the Autism Assistance Dog website, http://www.autismassistancedog.com/ the ideal breed of dog for
the autistic child is the breed that fits your home situation: if allergies are an issue in your home you should choose
a hypoallergenic dog; if your child displays violent tendencies and more severe meltdowns, a larger, solid dog is
Labs are a good breed of dog for autistic children due to their even temperament; they are good-natured and
friendly. They are peaceful with other animals and responsive to training. Good training is important with these dogs
(as with all assistance dogs), however, as they can be rambunctious and full of energy. It is important that the trainer
picks a dog that has a calm temperament and is peaceful.
Golden Retrievers have a welcoming bark and a kindly expression, consistent with the breeds cheerful and
trustworthy temperament. Retrievers have a robust and solid build -- important for children who have violent
tendencies. Nineteen year old Dale Gardner, as reported by the "Sunday Times," "found faces scary" as a child who
suffered from autism and would misread people's facial expressions. When his parents gave him Henry, a golden
retriever, his social interactions improved. "Henry had such a calm and friendly face and he never looked angry. I
could look at him and it took away the stress of talking to people." Golden retrievers have a lot of energy, however,
and must be chosen carefully by breeders and given lots of exercise.
Some dog breeds that are not thought of as typical therapeutic breeds can prove to be quick learners with even
temperaments. Poodles are chosen by Autism Service Dogs of America as service dogs, as they are "ideal because
of their temperament, ability to train and their love of people," says Pris Taylor, executive director of Autism Service
Dogs of America. They are also more hypoallergenic than other breeds, according to the Autism Assistance Dog
Blog, making them ideal for owners with allergies.
There are countless benefits of owning an assistance dog for children and families affected by autism. These dogs
are faithful companions that assist these children and families with activities of daily living as well as increasing the
safety of the child and reducing the stress level of their family. Other advantages of having an Autism Assistance
• Increased social interaction - assistance dogs have proven to improve social skills and social interaction with
children affected by autism. These dogs are naturally interesting which often draws the attention of the autistic
child as well as others.
• Redirecting repetitive behaviors - dogs can be taught to nudge a child that is performing repetitive behaviors,
this touch is often all that is required to redirect the child from these behaviors.
• Improved independence - assistance dogs can provide independence by allowing the child to walk with the dog
as opposed to constantly holding the hand of a parent or adult. These highly skilled dogs can assist the child while
under the direction of the adult.
• Increased vocabulary - children with autism are often noticed to have an increase in vocabulary after being paired
with an assistance dog. The children seem to be more comfortable in speaking with the dog which transfers to
more verbal interaction with people.
• Improved quality of sleep - assistance dogs provide a certain level of comfort that can often improve a childs
ability to sleep more throughout the night.
• Overall calming ability - when performing everyday tasks, children feel less pressure working with a dog as
opposed to their peers. The tactile experience of having a dog as a companion has also proven to provide calming
effects. Autistic children who work with dogs have been documented to feel less anger and experience less acts of
aggression compared to the time before receiving an assistance dog.
• Recovering children quickly - these assistance dogs are taught to track the child in the event that they bolt or
become missing. These dogs are capable of locating the child in a variety of environments and terrain. This ability
to locate the child quickly, greatly reduces the risk of serious harm.
Last updated at 9:45 PM on 18th February 2012
First there were guide dogs for the blind, then hearing dogs for the deaf. Now man’s best friend could help to care
for people suffering from dementia.
Golden retrievers and labradors are being taught to remind people to take their tablets, raise the alarm in an
emergency, assist with undressing and help out around the home.
Under the ‘Dementia Dog’ project the animals are trained to respond to an alarm that goes off whenever a person
who is struggling with memory loss needs to take medication.
The dogs will be taught to help people undress by gently pulling on gloves, socks and sleeves
The dog then clenches its mouth around the medicine, stored in a bite-proof bag, and carries it to the sufferer.
Animals can also be taught to recognise a specific movement that their owner would make when in distress.
The dog would then either press an emergency button on a telephone or bark loudly to raise the alarm.
And dogs can learn to open cupboards, drawers, fridges and washing machines, flick light switches, and even help
people suffering from dementia to undress.
Experts say the animals can be trained to carry out any task that requires a pulling motion. So if a short rope is
attached to a cupboard door, the dog can open it.
When it comes to helping with undressing, the dogs are trained to pull at the sleeve of a coat or tug off socks.
So far the project has been given £52,000 of Government funding, but needs to raise a further £130,000 to launch a
pilot scheme later this year.
Eventually, it is hoped the initiative will allow many more of the 750,000 Britons who suffer from dementia to retain
their independence for longer.
The dogs will undergo a six-month training programme using ‘positive reinforcement’, which means that whenever
they complete a task correctly, they get a treat.
If the scheme, developed by voluntary organisation Alzheimer Scotland, gains funding, it will be the first time that
dogs have been used to assist those with dementia.
A piece of string can be attached to handles so that doors and cupboards can be opened
The organisation’s deputy director, Joyce Gray, said: ‘We are really hopeful the dogs will not only be a huge
practical help but also provide great emotional support.
‘People with the condition can easily become isolated and the dog will be a constant companion, which will help
them to keep social.’
Sufferers of early-stage dementia are now being urged to suggest other ways the dogs could improve their lives.
The feedback will be incorporated into the pilot scheme once the funding is raised.
Four students at Glasgow School of Art came up with the idea after Alzheimer Scotland challenged the college to
suggest an innovative way to improve the lives of dementia sufferers.
The concept was pitched to the Design Council, which in partnership with the Department of Health was offering
funding for projects that helped those with early-stage dementia.
The Dementia Dogs scheme has now gained the backing of charities Dogs For The Disabled and Guide Dogs, which
already provide dogs with similar skills to help those with physical disabilities.
The number of people with dementia is set to hit one million by 2021 and 1.7 million by 2050. It is believed that six
out of ten of those with the condition are undiagnosed.
Sufferers of dementia and their relatives are urged to suggest ways that dogs could help them via the website
Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2103137/Guide-dogs-mind-The-retrievers-trained-dementia-
Donovan Sickmiller, 13,
accompanied by his service
dog in training, Addie,
inspects a DVD selection at
|More than a friend
Family hopes service dog will help autistic son
Copyright © 2012, South Bend Tribune
SOUTH BEND -- Thirteen-year-old Donovan Sickmiller is getting a dog, a Labrador/Golden retriever mix named Addie.
But this isn't your typical pairing of a young teen and a cute puppy. Donovan is severely autistic and also has Type 1
diabetes. Addie is a service dog in training.
The two are already spending time together, getting acquainted, but it will be a few months before Addie becomes
his full-time companion.
Both Donovan's family and the dog trainer are confident that at that point Addie will become an anchor for Donovan,
a stabilizing influence on a youth prone to unpredictable and potentially dangerous behavior.
"There is a never a dull moment with Donovan," says his mother, Nicole Sickmiller.
Autism is a brain-related disability affecting one's communication and social skills. Its effects vary from person to
In Donovan's case, he rarely speaks, occasionally uttering one word. He is also a growing child -- already 6-foot-4 --
with frequent outbursts and uncontrolled actions.
Nicole and her husband, Paul Sickmiller, are hopeful a service dog will help calm their oldest son.
Rachel Miller, Addie's trainer and owner of Northern Indiana Service Dogs in Plymouth, said it will likely be December
before the dog is fully trained and ready to stay full time with the Sickmillers.
"We think when they go out in public, Addie will calm Donovan," Miller said. "It has been shown with autistic people
that service dogs can have a calming effect. Hopefully, Addie will keep Donovan from being distracted, keep him
from fleeing and keep him drawn in and focused on her."
Further, there is the possibility that Addie, with a dog's extraordinary sense of smell, will pick up on Donovan's blood
sugar changes, particularly at night when everyone is asleep. Reductions in blood sugar can lead to seizures and
"Diabetics put off an odor and dogs can sense changes," Miller said. "But it will take a while before the dog will pick
up on that," said Miller, who has been training service dogs for 18 years.
Donovan was 8 years old when he was diagnosed with diabetes. His parents administer four insulin shots daily and
check his blood sugar routinely, because Donovan is not capable of either task.
His autism diagnosis came much sooner -- at about 20 months.
"At 15 months, friends started telling us we should have him checked but we were kind of in denial, saying he was
just a really good boy who never complained," Nicole said.
But it became evident early in Donovan's life that he would require extraordinary care. His inability to clearly
communicate leads to a "big game of charades," Nicole said.
And the family learned to always be on guard while out in public. "If we go into a restaurant, anything might set him
off," Nicole said. "It could be the lighting or whatever. It is unpredictable."
Donovan once sprinted off from the Sickmillers' south-side home and volunteer firefighters used two firetrucks to
block Kern Road and protect him from motorists.
As she sat at a table and discussed Donovan recently, he continued to reach over to firmly tap his mother on the
"This is where we are hoping the dog will help," Nicole said. "With the dog his focus will be off me and on the dog."
Donovan had a chance meeting with a service dog once that was encouraging to the family. And when members of
the family's church, Southlawn United Methodist, urged them to get a service dog, Nicole began researching training
sites and became aware of Northern Indiana Service Dogs.
Miller in recent months has trained and placed a seizure response dog with a 21-year-old woman in Missouri and a
service dog with a disabled Goshen man.
A breeder specifically bred Addie as a mix of Labrador and golden retriever, Miller said, "because the best of both of
those breeds results in fantastic service dogs."
Donovan and Addie have spent time together in a park, a store and at the Sickmillers' home. Soon, Miller will be
dropping the puppy off at the Sickmillers' on her way to work and then picking her up after work.
"Donovan with his autism has some behavior characteristics that Addie needs to learn about -- like his outbursts and
clapping," Miller said.
The trainer likes what she has seen thus far. At their first meeting, Donovan sat in the grass and while curious about
Addie, he didn't immediately want to get too close.
"Addie was great because she didn't rush him," Miller said. "She would slowly back up and give him the space he
needed. It took about an hour before Donovan was ready to take the leash."
Nicole said she has seen a remarkable change in Donovan when he's with Addie, giving her hope for the future. A
successful teaming of Donovan and Addie will benefit the entire family.
"When I was researching service dogs I read about one family with an autistic child that never took a vacation. And
going to a restaurant meant going to the drive-through," she said.
"That hit home. That is us."
The Sickmiller family also includes Nicolas, 11, and Melanie, 9, both of whom help care for their brother.
They even helped teach Donovan basic sign language, which his mother said improved Donovan's vocabulary some,
although he never says more than one word at a time -- often "eat" and "cookie."
Donovan's favorite activity is watching films. "He's obsessed with DVDs," said his mother.
"Yeah, he burnt out our VCR player," Nicolas said.
"And if we leave the room, he will take over Netflix," Melanie added.
It was something the two younger children said that made Nicole dream of a potential benefit of adding a service
"They told me the other day that they have never stayed in a motel room," Nicole said. "It would be nice to take
everyone on a vacation."
And that includes Addie, of course.
Copyright © 2012, South Bend Tribune
Rachel Miller, of Northern Indiana
Service Dogs, introduces Addie, a
service dog in training, to Donovan
(Photo provided / June 17, 2012)
Addie is being trained by
Northern Indiana Service Dogs
to be the companion of Donovan,
who has autism and Type 1
Northern Indiana Service Dogs specializes in training their dogs for their clients' individual needs.
We obtain our dogs from Golden Journey Retrievers, primarily working with the Golden Retriever and the
Golden/Labrador Retriever cross.
The puppies start their service dog training at 4 months of age. Most of our dogs are ready to go to their new
homes around the ages of 1 1/2 to 2 years of age. Northern Indiana Service Dogs trains their dogs in many areas.
The dogs can learn tasks such as:
Retrieving dropped objects, opening and closing doors, carrying medicine in their packs, pulling wheelchairs,
assisting with a seizure*, assisting with balance and many other tasks are possible. *We do not guarantee that our
dogs will predict seizures. However, we hope that in time after you bond with your dog, the dog will notice the
seizure and will alert to them.
After you are matched with a dog, Rachel will keep in touch with you, giving you progress reports. If you live close
enough, home visits are a possibility. We feel that home visits are a very important part of the training and
bonding experience. It gives the dogs a chance to see what exactly their life will be like when they are placed
When your service dog is finished with the training, you will have to come here to Plymouth, Indiana and train with
Rachel. It can take anywhere from a couple days to a week. We also provide follow-up training sessions when you
go home with your dog.
Contact us at:
Northern Indiana Service Dogs
1913 - F N. Michigan Street PMB 190
Plymouth, IN 46563