Sign In

Autism Therapy Dogs

June 19, 2020

One of the most common struggles for people living with autism spectrum disorder is socializing with others. Previous research has shown that dogs can serve as social catalysts, and children with autism may feel more comfortable speaking and socializing in the presence of a therapy dog. However, the answer may not be that simple.

In a new study, researchers at the University of Missouri found that while therapy dogs may benefit some children on the autism spectrum, they should not be seen as a one-size-fits-all answer for children struggling with social communication.

Courtney Jorgenson, a doctoral student in the MU College of Arts and Science, collaborated with Casey Clay, former assistant professor of special education and researcher at the MU Thompson Center for Autism and Neurodevelopmental Disorders, to study the impact of a therapy dog on the verbal communication of children with autism as they were speaking with a therapist. They found that some of the children spoke with the therapist more often in the presence of Rhett, a black Labrador Retriever at the Thompson Center, or when they were able to earn time playing with Rhett. Others spoke with the therapist more when they were able to earn time playing with a favorite toy, such as an iPad.

“The autism spectrum is incredibly broad, so what might be an effective intervention technique for one child might not necessarily be the best option for another,” Jorgenson said. “With so many different options available, this research can help parents make the best choices for their child.”

Therapy dogs go through extensive training to provide affection and comfort with a calming influence. Jorgenson recommends parents of children with autism speak with their doctor to ensure the benefits that therapy dogs provide will align with the reasons for wanting one and not assume that a therapy dog will benefit every child equally.

Research has also shown that dogs can help reduce stress. As children on the autism spectrum tend to have higher rates of anxiety and depression compared to children who are developing typically, therapy dogs can potentially be used to help them feel more comfortable in social environments.

“Petting a dog can raise your oxytocin levels, the same hormone that gets released when you hug a loved one,” Jorgenson said. “There’s a long way to go in figuring out how dogs can best support children on the autism spectrum, but this research can help identify which kids might benefit the most.”

“Evaluating preference for and reinforcing efficacy of a therapy dog to increase verbal statements” was recently published in Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis. Funding was provided by the Organization for Autism Research. Rhett, the Thompson Center’s therapy dog, was trained and provided by Duo Dogs, Inc. The content is solely the responsibility of the author and does not necessarily represent the official views of the funding agencies.

Register your Dog Schedule a Visit

  • Recent News

    Pet Therapy Program

    Saturday, October 10 is World Mental Health Day, which this year has a new sense of urgency for many. Covid-19 has taken a mental and emotional toll on healthcare workers across the U.S but there is a program boosting the spirits of doctors and nurses on the frontlines. At UC Irvine Medical Center in Southern […]

    Read more

    AMR Therapy Dog

    Rampart, a therapy dog with American Medical Response San Bernardino County, recently passed his Certified Therapy Dog exam. AMR acquired Rampart, a 1½-year-old goldendoodle, when he was 10 weeks old. Rampart started basic obedience classes when he was 4 months old and continued through advanced obedience classes, according to a news release. When he was […]

    Read more

    Workers Get Canine Interactions

    It was a long, boring spring and summer for the four-footed members of the Alliance of Therapy Dogs, who couldn’t visit nursing homes and hospitals giving tail wags and doggy smiles. The coronavirus paused the professional canine therapeutic interactions with patients and hospital workers. “You could actually see him falling into a depression at home,” said Wendy Kadish of […]

    Read more

    Therapy Dog Program

    An initiative by Cyndy Caravelis, associate professor of criminology and criminal justice at Western Carolina University, will include a pilot program to use a therapy dog to aid domestic violence victims and their families in Jackson County. Caravelis’ German shepherd Atlas will escort victims and family members into court procedures and stay with children while […]

    Read more

    Therapy Dogs Working With Staff

    After a pause due to COVID-19, the St. John Ambulance Abbotsford therapy dog team recently returned to visit staff at several different correctional facilities in the Fraser Valley. The PAWS inside program originally began at the Alouette Correctional Centre for Women five years ago and started off by providing services to inmates. Last year, the […]

    Read more

    Therapy Dog Bringing Comfort

    The Marion County Sheriff’s Office has a special K-9 who plays an important role. While most K-9s help in crime scenes and investigations, Comfort Caj is crime therapy dog and brings smiles to the community and the sheriff’s office. “He really brings a light and energy to this whole building, that you can’t fathom, you […]

    Read more

    Montgomery County's Therapy Dog

    Montgomery County has a new tool to help give crime victims some support. That tool’s name is Zurg. Zurg is the new therapy dog for the Montgomery County district attorney’s office. Montgomery County District Attorney Daryl Bailey introduced Zurg as the newest member of the team Monday. Coming from Canine Companions for Independence, Zurg will […]

    Read more