Best dog for an autistic 12 year old?

(64 Posts)
Strychnine Tue 19-Feb-19 16:02:14

I am considering getting a dog as my 12 year old DD is desperate for one and I think it would be really beneficial for her. She has high functioning asd and associated high anxiety. I work 4 days a week but am happy to get either a dog walker to come in on those days or use dog day care. I had a rescue border collie in the past who had a lot of undisclosed issues so I am wary of getting another rescue dog. I also do not want a puppy as I don't think it would be fair. I spoke to Dogs for Good who gave me some helpful advice and ideally I am looking for an animal around 14 months as that is the age they start doing autism specific training.

My DD is particularly taken with Leonbergers and Bearded Collies but I am open to any suggestions. I am also prepared to be told not to get a dog if that is most sensible! We would need a calm, gentle, friendly breed who also is ok with cats. What things should I be thinking about? I am not going to do anything on a whim so ideally would be looking to get a dog over the summer holidays when we are all home so that it can be settled in.

There are plenty of places to exercise a dog within walking distance and I am not house proud so shedding, clumsiness etc is not a problem. I am personally not keen on small dogs as a family member had a very yappy, bitey Jack Russell. Friends had chihuahuas who all seemed too highly strung for our needs. I am open to reconsidering though. Any thoughts or suggestions very welcome please!

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JimandPam Tue 19-Feb-19 16:21:59

Hey @Strychnine

I think what you'll find is everyone will champion their own breed of dog!

We have a Labrador and I reckon you can't go wrong here! We don't have children and never trained him to act in a specific way around them but it just appears to be instinct! He is so gentle with our nieces and nephews, never snatched treats or a toy from them but patiently waits and sort of watches them to see what he should do. They are an incredibly social breed and love human company.

We actually got ours when I was diagnosed with kitchen disease and he has seen me through dialysis and a transplant. I often think how dark mine and my DH relationship would have got in those moments (from sadness not anything toxic!) without the dog. He sat up with my DH and just gave him company when I went to bed at 8. He lay in bed with me while I recovered from my transplant and went on those first tentative walks with so gently. He is a dream and we wouldn't be without him.

That being said, puppies are hard work! Teething, mouthing, biting, chewing and scratching! So regardless of breed, if going for a puppy just remember it will be hard but the more effort and training you put in, the better the dog you'll get out of it!

Good luck! 🐾

missbattenburg Tue 19-Feb-19 16:23:40

As always with these kinds of questions I shall try to tread carefully (but may fail through my own inadequacies).

I always see a lot of what people want FROM the dog but very little about they can offer TO the dog.

A dog acting as a support dog is often expected to deal with a lot. To pick the right one, it would be good to know what you would expect to offer in return:

- there may be nice places to walk locally but how much walking would you LIKE to do and of what type? 2 x 20mins round a local park is quite different to 2 x 1 hour over muddy fields. Committing to something you don't actively want to do makes it really hard - especially when it is wet, cold and you have to fit the walks in at 5am and 7pm because you are at work the rest of the day. 1 walk a day from a dog walker will not suit every dog so if this is all that is on offer on your working days, that will cut down the selection a fair bit.

- how much training do you WANT to do and for how long and what types? Some (most?) dogs benefit from ongoing training for the rest of their lives, both from an obedience pov but also from a mental stimulation and wellbeing one. Support dogs can be asked to deal with stressful situations and how well they will cope will be partly linked to how well you take care of their mental well being at other times. Do you just want to do the basics and stop once the dog can perform those? Do you want to teach tricks? Agility? Formal obedience?

- how much grooming do you want to do or can afford for someone else to do? 20 mins a week or 30mins a day?

- how much play and downtime will the dog get? What kinds of ways would you want to play with the dog? Tug, fetch, chase? Different breeds will have different play styles. e.g. a collie that loves to chase would not be much good to a child that is spooked by being chased.

- how much time would you expect the dog to spend alone? You say you work 4 days - are they full days? Are you asking the dog to spend 8+ hours alone with just one walk in the middle? Lots of 14 month old dogs would not cope with that.

- holidays etc? Do you take them, where do you go? Would the dog join you are go to family/friends or a boarding facility? Would that facility be kennels or home boarding? Family/friends may not want to look after a big dog. Some breeds cope better with kennels than others. Some home boarders will not take certain sizes or types.

- how are you going to find a 14 month old specific breed in the summer months? Genuinely, I am struggling to think of how you could rely on getting exactly the breed and age you want in a six week window (actually, presumably in a 1-2 week window as you want maximum holiday time with the new dog)?

Sorry if all that sounds negative. It's not meant to. It's meant to sound practical and helpful smile

Strychnine Tue 19-Feb-19 18:17:00

Thank you both. Labs are a breed I have seriously considered as my brother has had several and they have all been lovely. Rubbish at recall around food though 😁 I have very fond memories of childhood holidays with a family who always have had golden retrievers and I really like them too.

Those questions are really helpful and I will try to answer them as best I can as obviously the dog's wellbeing is very important. Is there anywhere or anyone out that there that can advice specifically about what to look for in support dogs and how to ensure their good mental health that you know of?

Week day walks- 2 x 20/30 minute walks in fields and tracks plus at least an hour with a paid walker. Weekends plus the day I don't work could be the same in the morning and evening plus at least a couple of hours through fields and woods. A couple of times a week could possibly also have a longer daytime walk as a friend has said she could take any dog out with hers. I don't like to rely on others generosity though hence the paying someone. I wouldn't want a dog to be alone for more than 4 hours at a time. It may be that I should be looking for slightly older dogs. Definitely no puppies!

Training - I am hoping to go on a course run by one of the charities that train assistance dogs. Good recall and obedience is very important. The collie needed a lot of mental stimulation and constant training and I don't want that level of input to be required again. I am not interested in agility training but the kids would no doubt want to teach some tricks. I don't want a dog who gets easily bored and destructive again either. Granted my previous dog had a particularly low boredom threshold but I had him pre children and could spend a lot more time with him than I would be able to do with a dog now. I don't want to start from scratch with a puppy as it wouldn't be fair on the dog or practical for me.

Grooming- I would rather not groom daily but would if the breed with the best nature for our needs required it. Coat type and size of dog are flexible, although not small ones. I do like Patterdale Terriers so larger terriers are ok. Definitely no brachycephalic breeds though for a number of reasons.

Play and downtime- this is a really interesting question as it wasn't something I had thought about properly. Retrieving type games rather than chasing probably. Tug and fetch rather than chase. The dog's mental wellbeing is really important especially as it would be a support dog so I would also want it to have a safe space of its own that it could access whenever it wanted downtime.

Holidays- these are always in this country and would be dependent on whether family could look after a dog and whether it could come with us. Probably a combination but I will ask the home boarders that have been recommended what restrictions they have. I will also ask my brother where he goes as he always takes his dogs with him.

The summer holiday bit is very much best case scenario and I know probably unrealistic! There is flexibility in the age and timing depending on the dog's personality. Even within a breed not every dog will have the right personality to be a support dog so the right nature is the most important thing. For the dog, my daughter and the rest of the family. I was looking at breeds rather than crossbreeds simply because after past experience I am wary of rescue centres and couldn't think of how else to find a youngish adult. Any suggestions of ways to check how reputable a rescue is would be really helpful. Also ones prepared to rehomed a dog to be a support dog as that is pretty specific.

There is a degree of flexibility in all of the above but in my head I need some sort of list or structure to know where to start. Dogs for Good offer ongoing support if you do their training for Family Support dogs so any training I can find for me would hopefully offer something like that. I would rather take a year and find a dog who would be happy with us and vice versa than rush into something and things not work out. Hope all that makes sense!

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Strychnine Tue 19-Feb-19 18:34:46

Sorry can't work out how to bold names on my phone. JimandPam that is a beautiful dog! I hope your health is much improved post transplant.

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user1471453601 Tue 19-Feb-19 18:46:09

These types of threads really get me down. Not all dogs of the same breed behave the same way. Each dog is individual.

Opening poster, I would suggest you go to a specific web site that has screened puppys and are more aware of what a child with your daughters specific needs wants. And go from there.

Strychnine Tue 19-Feb-19 18:57:56

I know that all dogs are individual and would obviously be very careful to make sure any dog would be happy. Assistance dogs do not exist for children my daughter's age and I have talked to charities but was also posting here for additional advice. To me that is a responsible way to do research. Whilst all dogs are individuals different breeds have traditionally been bred for different traits. I was hoping for helpful hints and general tips which the earlier two posters both gave. I also asked if anyone knows of specific places to ask so if you know of reliable websites please point me in their direction.

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Hoddykins Tue 19-Feb-19 19:14:20

I am a dog fosterer and I have had 7 dogs so far that have had to be rehomed because there was some sort of incident with an autistic child that they lived with - you know your child better than anyone else so I take your word that she will cope with a dog, but just be wary that dogs can often cause anxiety and children with autism can often not understand when the dog needs down time and leaving alone etc.

Just think really carefully if it is the right thing for her - could you perhaps borrow a friend's dog and see how she is around them?

I think a puppy would be a bad idea as the puppy stage is very stressful, but any rescue will need time and patience and alone time so you must make sure she understands that the dog needs to have time to settle in.

Hope that's helpful! X

Nat6999 Tue 19-Feb-19 19:20:16

My ex husband has a black Labrador, he was a stray, just wandered in one day, no claimers from police, dog warden & Facebook stray sites, he had no tag or microchip, he was about 7 when he arrived, took very little training, ex husband is in a wheelchair with MS but takes him out every day with his electric wheelchair for 1-2 ,mile walks. DS is autistic, Aspergers & has a very close relationship with dog, from when he arrives, dog never leaves his side & sleeps with him. Dog is very loving & placid, well behaved except for odd occasion when he has escaped, he always comes back. He is about 11 now & other than a bit of arthritis is healthy.

DogInATent Tue 19-Feb-19 19:21:00

The questions you need to think about have already been asked by MissB above.

But... getting in before the greyhounds (for a change).. I'll suggest Staffy. I'm biased, but they are extremely empathic and very tolerant with children. Other than that any of the "family" breeds. But I'd avoid collies and other working breeds. Collies are a breed I've always struggled to trust - but my experience has been limited to working farm dogs of this breed.

userblablabla Tue 19-Feb-19 19:23:35

Labrador/golden retriever definitely! Mostly* very affectionate and easily trained.

*Obviously there will be some exceptions

Strychnine Tue 19-Feb-19 19:24:23

Thank you that is helpful. She spends a lot of time with dogs and finds them much easier to interact with than people. Her issues are mainly to do with social interactions with humans, particularly her peers, and anxiety. She is very aware of how to treat dogs with respect as she follows rules like that rigidly! I would also be the one taking all practical responsibility for the dog.

Puppies and rescue dogs are not groups of dogs that I think would be a good fit. Do you know what kind of incidents occurred that meant the dogs you fostered needed to be rehomed? A couple of professionals who have worked with her (and own dogs) have suggested that dog ownership would be really beneficial but I have been very resistant. Some changes in my work nd our living situation have meant it may now be a viable option but I don't want to rush into anything and cause distress to dog or human.

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Kaddm Tue 19-Feb-19 19:27:00

Op I got my autistic 12yo a puppy. Different circumstances to you so cannot recommend the breed (lap dog) for you. But he has been absolutely wonderful with the dog. Loves and worships him. Even gets up with the dog at 5:30am if dog wakes up! When things go wrong at school, he sits and cuddles the dog and doesn’t worry about school anymore.

Gloschick Tue 19-Feb-19 19:28:15

I have a 10 year old with probable asd and anxiety issues. We have a Havanese dog which has been great for him. They are apparently meant to be the best dogs for relieving stress:
Although they are fairly small, they woof rather than yap, and are generally quiet unless they go into guard dog role. V sweet, loving, entertaining dogs. They love being around people so you would want day care preferably although might manage with just a walker coming in half way through the day. I think re this issue you will need to decide if you want a more aloof dog that is fine to leave of a more 'people dog' who would need more company.
They don't need a lot of walking, and aren't destructive and are straight forward to train. Main downsides are that they are not cheap and need grooming every day otherwise their hair will get matted. 2 things would help though - if u aren't worried too much about them having long hair then you could keep it short which makes it a lot easier. Also, if u r getting an adult dog the prev owner will have hopefully trained them to accept being combed, which is half the battle.
As to where to find a dog, I would recommend contacting breeders of the dog breed you want. Some will have dogs returned to them by people who can no longer look after them. Also, they may want to sell on girls that they have finished using for breeding although these are usually older than the age you are looking for. Sometimes they keep a couple from a litter then settle on one and sell the other - these would be of the right age. Good luck!

missbattenburg Tue 19-Feb-19 19:28:50

Everything you say sounds very sensible, OP.

The two breeds that stand out to me are:

Labs. I know you say you find their foodiness a negative but I would tend to think of it as a positive. Whilst you'll always have to keep an eye out around childen with food (mostly to prevent theivery), a dog that loves food can make training much easier. But then I have Battendog (spinger) who is not so food-focussed; I have looked on in envy as lab owners have had their dogs walking to a perfect heel just for a dry old bit of kibble smile.

Staffies: as mentioned above. Not so sure about their trustworthiness around cats but the good ones are incredible around people. Some of the most bomb-proof dogs I've known have been staffies and I have grown to love the breed after spending time with some in rescues.

TrainSong Tue 19-Feb-19 19:33:29

I'd suggest a lab/golden retriever. DS2 is HFA and absolutely devoted to our cat, as the cat is to him. They live in each other's company. The cat brings him so much joy and soothes him as he does struggle socially. He's told me he is definitely going to get himself a labrador once he's grown and in his own home. They are intelligent, loving and loyal just what a HFA person needs in an animal friend.

Strychnine Tue 19-Feb-19 19:36:18

Cross posted with several other there. Thank you for all the helpful answers. Labs and retrievers seem to be a recurring theme 😀 DD's favourite dog was one who she pretty much knew for most of both their lives.He sadly died last year and she is resistant to the idea of one as she seems to think it makes her disloyal to him. It may be that I need to work on trying to get her to change her mind there. Though easier said than done!

I love staffies but am wary of the way some have been treated and bred for all the wrong reasons. I shared a house with one many years ago and he is still one of my all time favourite dogs. I would also be a bit concerned about how more ignorant adults might react as people have a lot of misconceptions about them. That would definitely distress my child.

I did consider greyhounds and lurchers too and may revisit that idea. The ones I knew best were ex racers and rescues and could be anxious so I discounted them for that reason. Lots of great suggestions and things to think about, so thank you all.

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anniehm Tue 19-Feb-19 19:44:47

Our border collie is amazing with our autistic daughter (to be honest he's probably autistic himself if dogs can be!) but we had him from puppy and spent so much time training (and money on lessons). He's a great companion for her now she's left alone (adult now) too. He also loves playing with the day centre adults who volunteer in the park, so much so their keyworkers have invited him to hang out at the centre!

Training a dog is such a great thing for any child to do, just pick a breed that's intelligent enough to actually learn.

anniehm Tue 19-Feb-19 19:48:25

Ps adult collies are very lazy creatures, ours sleeps 20 hours a day, and is quite content to snooze as she studies in return for 30 mins off lead in the park or chasing his ball in our garden.

colliemix Tue 19-Feb-19 19:55:08

Asd teen and collie mix rescue! Dog is generally very placid as is child though. Dog isn't a lap dog though and while likes attention and playing outside is happy just to lie beside you or near you. This suits our child who isn't massively demonstrative. Dog has been great as soothing to talk to it, stroke etc. Every child and dog going to be different I suppose. Ours is a good match as don't think dog would want to be petted and bothered all the time.

Strychnine Tue 19-Feb-19 19:55:50

Much as I like collies, hence getting the lovable but very dysfunctional one I had, I would never get one again. Too clever by half and can be too unpredictable in my experience. I know a lot of people who would never get another breed though.

I hadn't thought of the love of food as being a positive but actually can see that would make training much easier. I am going to have a very serious look at labs and retrievers. Certainly a more manageable size than a Leonberger 😀

Huge thanks to all the supportive posters who have given me a lot to think about and work with. And thank you also to those of you who have shared your experiences of children with HFA and dog ownership.

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colliemix Tue 19-Feb-19 20:03:40

We got the dog though as we (the adults) wanted a rescue dog. Certainly the children have gained from it there's no doubt and were very keen, but it was something we wanted to do, if you see what I mean. Teenager loves the dog for example, but doesn't take much responsibility for it! I hope it all works out for you. It has certainly enhanced our family life.

gettingtherequickly Tue 19-Feb-19 20:08:29

Have you thought of a retired greyhound? Very used to people handling them, not reactive to humans, and so happy to have a home.
They can retire very young, (from 2 or 3 years), and really don't need much walking, (a couple of 20 minutes a day).

gettingtherequickly Tue 19-Feb-19 20:10:25

Sorry just seen your last post, we have 6 ex racers and they are very chilled. If you go to your local greyhound trust and talk to them they'll match you with a dog with the right temperament.

TheABC Tue 19-Feb-19 20:20:20

Just a thought, but if you have a Dog's Trust near you, volunteer to be a dog walker. That way, you can get a feel for how the different breeds interact with your DD and which ones will work well for your lifestyle. You are not expected to adopt a rescue and it's a nice, no-stress way to interact with dogs as well as supporting the charity.

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