October 3, 2016

Child Therapy: Therapy Dogs

Growing up with a family pet encourages companionship and responsibility. In a new study from the Journal of Pediatric Nursing, it was found that children with autism may benefit from interactions with a pet. Children with autism that had a childhood dog growing up showed greater social skills compared to those without one. There are three types of dogs that are proven to help children with autism: companion, service, and therapy. Although social behaviors can be enhanced by dog interactions, dogs may not be appropriate for all families. Learn more about each type to decide whether or not a dog would be beneficial to your child and family

Companion Dog:

A companion dog is a well-trained family dog with no official training certification. Dogs can be a calming influence for children by providing unconditional, nonjudgmental love. Golden retrievers, labs, and labradoodles are recommended breeds because of their calming temperament and high intelligence. If your child is easily agitated or has noise sensitivity, be sure not to get a dog that is super hyperactive or a constant barker. Companion dogs will help children learn the importance of taking care of something. It will teach him or her how to put the dog’s feelings before their own. Companion dogs will provide opportunities to learn responsibility through feeding, walking, and cleaning up after them. They will also encourage children to be more active by walking or playing catch. Companion dogs can encourage children to become more social in front of others. They create a good conversation icebreaker when approached by someone new.

Service Dogs:

Service dogs have received extensive training and an official certification in assisting persons with disabilities. One positive of service dogs is that they are allowed in all public places because of the Americans with Disability Act. For a child with autism, the service dog can help keep them calm in stressful situations such as doctor or dentist appointments, school activities, and/or high intensity travel locations, such as the airport. Each dog is paired with a child and is trained based on their needs. In some instances, the dog is trained to detect when a child is resorting to self-harming behaviors by gently interrupting. The dog may lean against the child or put their head in the child’s lap if the child is becoming anxious. For more information on applying for a service dog, click here.

Therapy dogs:

Therapy dogs typically work in professional settings such as hospitals, nursing homes, and mental health facilities. They are the in between of companion and service dogs. They are professionally trained to provide affection and comfort during therapeutic situations. The difference between therapy dogs and service dogs is that therapy dogs are not federally mandated to access public places. Therapy dogs are usually trained with special skills, and usually are very peaceful and affectionate. For more information on therapy dogs, click here.

One size does not fit all. A service, companion, or therapy dog may be extremely beneficial for some children, but may aggravate others. Educate yourself on the different choices and know what is best for your family. However, it is hard to resist a furry friend!



“Autism and Pets: More Evidence of Social Benefits.” Autism Speaks. Autism Speaks Inc., n.d. Web. 04 Sept. 2016.

“Is a Service Dog Right for Your Child?” ASDA. N.p., 06 Feb. 2015. Web. 04 Sept. 2016.

“Service Dog or Therapy Dog: Which Is Best for a Child with Autism?” Autism Speaks. Autism Speaks Inc., n.d. Web. 04 Sept. 2016.

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