Here are three tips that could help you make the right decision when choosing a therapy dog.
A therapy dog might seem like a large cost, but it’s an investment in your child that can make a huge difference to his/her quality of life.
Therapy dogs are a little different from service dogs. But once you’ve decided which one would be best, here’s how to choose a therapy dog for your child with autism.
1. Consider the dog’s temperament
The temperament of the dog you choose is important. Your child needs to trust the dog so that he/she will interact with it!
Make an effort to select a dog that has a calm disposition and is very gentle and patient. An excitable, boisterous dog may be overwhelming for an autistic child.
Ideally, choose an easily-trained dog so that they learn to respond in an appropriate manner towards your child.
- For a verbal child
If your child is verbal, the pup will need to learn to obey his/her commands. Include your child in the dog’s training as a great opportunity for bonding.
- For a nonverbal child
For a nonverbal child, the therapy dog will be a supportive and comforting companion. Once they’ve spent some time together, the pup will begin to learn the nuances, tics, and habits that your child has and interact with him/her based on those rather than verbal commands. Either way, it’s important to choose a trainable dog!
- For a child with low muscle tone
It’s very important to select a dog with energy levels that match your child’s, especially if your child has low muscle tone.
Some examples of medium-energy dogs include Spaniels, Flat-Coated Retrievers, or Golden Retrievers. They are excellent family dogs and while they need to be walked regularly, which will help your child get some exercise, they’re just as happy cuddling on the couch.
2. Consider the dog breed
You may already have a particular breed in mind. But there are a number of things to consider apart from the specific breed you want to bring into your home.
You’d need to pay close attention to your child’s specific needs. For example, if they have allergies, you may want to avoid a dog that’s going to require a lot of grooming and could leave a lot of dander behind.
Consider the needs of your child, and then think about:
- The dog’s temperament
- How big the dog is
- The pup’s needs
- Adult vs puppy
When it comes to size, you’ll know your child’s comfort levels. If your child needs more sensory support, then a larger dog would be better. Look at a Great Pyrenees or Newfoundland. If your child is in a stroller or chair, then it would be best to get a smaller dog that can sit on his/her lap, like a Beagle.
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3. Have a playdate
It’s so important for your child and the dog to bond! To see if your child and the pup you’re eyeing would be a good match, you can set up a playdate to see how they interact with each other.
It may be best to have the playdate at your house, where your child would be in his/her comfort zone. Most organizations are accommodating.
Once you’re happy that your child and the dog are getting along and bonding in the playdate sessions, you can look at introducing the rest of the family. Once they’re acquainted with everyone, you can consider making the pooch a part of your family.
If your autistic child needs more support, a cuddly, lovable, watchful therapy dog could be exactly what they need.
Just be aware that an autism service or therapy dog is not a pet! The dog needs to be bonded to your autistic child, and it can be hard to stop the rest of the family from giving the pup love and cuddles.
If you’re interested in getting your child a therapy dog, reach out to your nearest autism organization to find out more
This article was featured in Issue 123 – Autism In Girls