Dogs and Autism: Autistic Kids with Pets are More Confident

Dogs and Autism - Autistic Kids with Pets are More Confident

Dogs and Autism - Autistic Kids with Pets are More ConfidentMost pet owners have long suspected that there’s some correlation between dogs and autism, and how autistic kids who live with canines on a daily basis are far different from those that don’t communicate with dogs. Now a study proves that this is truly the case – dogs and other pets play a significant role in daily lives of kids with autism.

For those forced to deal with the problem, it’s important to know the connection between dogs and autism, as these pets play an significant role in our social lives. Dogs can and usually will act as stimulus for social interaction, which has previously been proven already by multiple cynology research papers. Even though majority of attention from the press was primarily focused on dogs and autism and how canines can improve the social skills of autistic children, a University of Missouri researcher recently found that children with autism have much stronger social interaction skills when they lived with any kind of pets at home for a prolonged period of time.

“When I compared the social skills of children with autism who lived with dogs to those who did not, the children with dogs appeared to have greater social skills. More significantly, however, the data revealed that children with any kind of pet in the home reported being more likely to engage in behaviors such as introducing themselves, asking for information or responding to other people’s questions. These kinds of social skills typically are difficult for kids with autism, but this study showed children’s assertiveness was greater if they lived with a pet,” said Gretchen Carlisle, research fellow at the Research Center for Human-Animal Interaction (ReCHAI) in the MU College of Veterinary Medicine.

Dogs and Autism Autistic Kids with Pets are More Confident Cynology
Dogs and autism, and how they help kids / Photo credit: Animals Asia

What’s the connection between dogs and autism

The connection between dogs and autism is that our trusted furry companions, as cynology research shows, often serve as social lubricants. When dogs and other pets are present in social settings or a classroom, children talk and engage more with one another. This effect also seems to apply to autistic kids and could account for their increased assertiveness when the children are living in a home with dogs, according to the lead researcher.

“When children with disabilities take their service dogs out in public, other kids stop and engage. Kids with autism don’t always readily engage with others, but if there’s a pet in the home that the child is bonded with and a visitor starts asking about the pet, the child may be more likely to respond,” says Carlisle.

Carlisle also found the importance of dogs and autism is that children’s social skills increased the longer a family had owned a dog, yet older children rated their relationships with their dogs as weaker. When children were asked, they reported the strongest attachments to smaller dogs.

“Finding children with autism to be more strongly bonded to smaller dogs, and parents reporting strong attachments between their children and other pets, such as rabbits or cats, serves as evidence that other types of pets could benefit children with autism as well,” said Carlisle.

Study on dogs and autism in kids

The study on dogs and autism has surveyed 70 families who had autistic kids between the ages of 8 and 18. These children were patients at the MU Thompson Center for Autism and Neurodevelopmental Disorders. Almost 70 percent of the families that participated in the dogs and autism cynology research already had canine pets, and about half of the families had cats. Other pets owned by participants included fish, farm animals, rodents, rabbits, reptiles, a bird and even one spider.

“Dogs are good for some kids with autism but might not be the best option for every child. Kids with autism are highly individual and unique, so some other animals may provide just as much benefit as dogs. Though parents may assume having dogs are best to help their children, my data show greater social skills for children with autism who live in homes with any type of pet,” concluded the researcher.

Scientific paper on dogs and autism labelled The Social Skills and Attachment to Dogs of Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder was published in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders [1], and the funding was provided by Sigma Theta Tau-Alpha Iota.

ReCHAI is a collaboration project on dogs and autism between the MU Sinclair School of Nursing and the MU College of Veterinary Medicine, and its mission is educating and conducting programs and studies about the benefits of human-animal interaction. The MU Thompson Center for Autism and Neurodevelopmental Disorders is a national leader in confronting the challenges of autism & other developmental conditions through its collaborative research, training and service programs.



  1. Gretchen K. Carlisle. The Social Skills and Attachment to Dogs of Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 2014; DOI: 10.1007/s10803-014-2267-7

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