Autism spectrum disorder covers a wide range of symptoms, though most people with ASD find social skills, nonverbal cues and verbal communication to be trickier than those without ASD. Because of this, emotional support dogs are often part of a treatment plan for someone with ASD as canines can provide positive sensory experiences, boost confidence in social settings and present comforting opportunities for nonverbal communication. Plus—hello—unconditional love.
While emotional support dogs do not need specialized training, there are breeds better suited for people with ASD than others. (Sometimes, dogs can be trained for specific issues, like being able to sense when a seizure or fit is on the horizon or responding to anxiety attacks.) Here, eight dogs highly suited for a family with ASD.
This hybrid between a poodle and a Labrador retriever suits those with ASD because these pups are super friendly and super smart. Basically, they are up for cuddling and won’t overreact to mood swings. People with ASD require animals with cheerful demeanors, so look no further than this affable sweetheart. Plus, they’re hypoallergenic and don’t shed.
Miniature American Shepherd
Another must: Dogs must be easy to train. Pups like the miniature American shepherd know how to learn commands, follow orders and are eager to please their owners. Predictable, daily routines provide structure to those with ASD, so trainability is imperative. Plus, these pups are great with kiddos.
Try walking down the street with a friendly golden and not making a new pal. This breed is a terrific companion for social settings because they’re loyal and playful. Dogs for ASD sufferers also often need to be able to withstand a little rough-housing—or at the very least, tons of playtime—and goldens are always up for anything.
In the same vein, the Saint Bernard is tremendously sturdy and an excellent canine to lean on when needed. They train well, are great with people of all ages and don’t bark a ton (according to the American Kennel Club). Barking can be startling, and many with ASD also suffer from noise sensitivity, so a pup on the quieter side is ideal.
These dogs are incredibly patient and devoted to their owners. Obedience comes easily, and these gentle giants only bark when necessary. Newfoundlands (and all the dogs on our list) also interact well with other dogs. It can be upsetting when a casual walk turns into a growling match between pooches. Avoid this by settling on a breed that plays well with others.
Big dogs are excellent for those with ASD, but tiny dogs also get the job done. Enter the Maltese poodle. A combo of the intelligent poodle and the fluffy, good-natured Maltese, this pooch is a winning combination.
Also known as a giant, mellow guardian, the Great Pyrenees is perfectly suited for people with ASD. Puppy training early is key, as they tend to be a little on the independent side. But as long as they understand sit, stay and chill, they’ll serve and protect unflinchingly. We’re not mad about that puffy white coat, either!
American Staffordshire Terrier
Talk about a sturdy dog. American Staffordshire terriers are built like a rock, yet they’re huge softies at heart. They love their families and are loyal through and through. Another highly trainable breed, this dog could be a huge confidence builder for anyone entering a new social setting.