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Training Service Dogs for Autistic Children

The need of service dogs for autistic children is remarkably high, with not enough qualified service dogs available for this demand. Autistic disorder in children belongs to a group of developmental disabilities that emerge from 18 months to three years of age. Autism belongs to a group of disorders called Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs) – Autistic Disorder, Asperger Syndrome, and Pervasive Developmental Disorder. Separate from the other two disorders, autism can show serious delays in language skills with communication and social challenges. The autistic child exhibits unusual behaviors accompanied by cognitive disabilities.

(Image: iStockPhoto/jonnysek)

With this in mind, not every dog qualifies to be a service dog for an autistic child. Strict qualifications for not only the dog entering the service field are followed but also for the autistic child. The Autism Service Dogs of America (ASDA) works with extraordinarily distinctive and unique dogs, and are currently in need of breeders in Oregon. Breeds chosen are Labrador Retrievers, Golden Retrievers, Labrador-Golden Retriever cross, Golden Retriever-Labrador-Golden Retrievers-German Shepherd crosses.  Both parent dogs need to go through a lengthy medical testing process before they can be approved by the ASDA.

  • AKC pedigree certification is required
  • OFA or PennHIP hip dysplasica successful testing
  • Elbow dysplasica testing completed successfully
  • Heart exams by Board Certified Veterinary Cardiologists with favourable results
  • Eye certificate (pink slip) that is valid within the year

Applying for Autism Service Dogs

When a parent or caretaker first applies for an autism service dog, they will need to fill out a screening sheet.  This is to provide the best possible dog for that individual child. A few questions that may be asked involve whether or not the child runs away from caregivers; does he demonstrate impulsivity or hyperactive behavior;  is he aggressive toward others; does the child experience temper tantrums;  is the child hypersensitive to sound or being touched; does the child demonstrate extreme or abnormal moods;  does the child demonstrate age appropriate fear to real dangers;  is the child self-injurious; does the child experience difficulty developing peer relationships; does the child experience seizures;  or is there a lack of ability to create imaginative play?

Training Service Dogs for Autistic Children

Service dogs are chosen appropriately to their autistic child, with training beginning around eight weeks of age in homes of volunteer individuals or families for the sake of socializing the new puppy.  Also, the volunteer is required to make a commitment and be responsible for basic obedience training with a ASDA trainer every month.  This continues until the puppy reaches anywhere from a year to a year-and-a-half. At that time, the animal returns to ASDA for six months of specialized service training with the ASDA staff.

Socializing a young puppy for a service dog for an autistic child is an accredited 4-H project, but adults and non 4-H individuals can raise puppies for the ASDA organization.  The dog training a service dog receives when he is returned to the ASDA for four to eight months is considered “formal autism service dog training with professional instructors.” After that, they are placed in a home with an autistic child with the parents receiving proper training in Portland with the service dog.

Once this is completed, the parents and dog will return home – followed in two weeks by a ASDA trainer who will begin a seven-day tether training process with both the dog and autistic child. Once the parent dog-handler and the autistic child meets the public accessibility guidelines, they are certified as a service dog team for a child with autism.

CDC: “Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs)

Mental Health  Center: “Children and Adults with Autism


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  1. Maurice
    September 20, 2016 at 10:29 pm — Reply

    Thanks for your information. its realy usefull

  2. Maggi
    January 15, 2016 at 1:04 pm — Reply

    I have a son of 13 with autisme. We have a two GSP (german shepherd). They are both great dogs and act extremely good with my son. The older one (4 years) is expecting her first puppes. I would Like to find out If some of her outcome is also suitable as service dogs for children with autism. My dogs are aproved by the Danish Kennel Organisation for breeding. How Can I test puppes and were Can I get any Help?

  3. Tatiana
    June 28, 2013 at 1:33 am — Reply

    Hello I’m a proud owner of Labrador retrievers and am very interested in breeding for special needs children.
    Any information regarding programs in Queensland Australia would be grealy appreciated


  4. June 27, 2012 at 12:58 am — Reply

    While your blog article is written well, the American Disabilities Association which grants disability status to those including children on the autism spectrum, does not require a dog to be a purebred and have genetics testing. In fact, any breed of dog can be registered as a service animal if it displays the necessary training and skills to fufill the need as a service or therapy dog.

    While I have yet to personally read the current require requirements by the ASDA, I think it is important that they are so compliant with the ADA to ensure proper canine personality and placement is still a top priority. Many adults dogs of different ages, still eager to work and very trainable, are often more desirable than a puppy (even when returned to the owner and 1.5 years). A good service dog will follow commands but and slightly older dog many be less excitable and eager to an autistic child whereas the older, experiences dog can be more of a “rock” during tantrums, etc.

    This is going to be a different scenario for every child and every dog so it would be wise for the ASDA to include the findings about different dog breeds and “mixed” dogs, and how well of a service dogs they can be too.

    March 6, 2011 at 6:33 am — Reply

    I have 2 dogs that were sent to me by angels! In fact, THEY ARE my angels! I contacted the National Service Animal Registry, and both of my dogs are now registered service dogs under the ADA.

    Each person is different. My son panics in crowds or with strangers, and he was once very self abusive. When he is with his dogs, he talks to strangers about the DOGS, and he now even walks next to them instead of hiding behind them. This took 2 years.

    They even alerted me to seizures I did not know he was having.

    Thank you for training dogs especially for our children, because the odds of anyone finding dogs with the keen instincts these 2 have has got to be rare!

  6. August 17, 2010 at 10:17 am — Reply

    My 4 year old son Christopher was diagnosed with Aspergers, I had a Cardiac Service Dog given to me by a friend. I am curious how I can train this dog to be good for my son Please someone give me some advice

    • August 22, 2010 at 5:17 pm — Reply

      Kevin…I would contact a dog training service, preferably the one who trained your friend’s dog. There is a lot of difference between a service dog for Aspergers and one for Cardiac service, and it may need further training to work with your son. And then again, maybe not. But it is wise to contact the dog training professionals in the service field.

  7. April 30, 2010 at 7:15 am — Reply

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