The use of therapy dogs (also called service dogs) is a practice with very limited evidence to suggest benefit to individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Nevertheless, many families attest that the dogs are beneficial, but not all. Most of the “evidence” at this date remains anecdotal. Many families use service dogs to prevent their children from running off or getting lost; others find there are additional therapeutic benefits, including increased socialization, decreased bullying incidents, ease of transitions, etc. There is no extensive research-based evidence finding that therapy or service dogs do any of the above claims.
Traditionally “therapy” dogs were trained to support disabled individuals, such as guide dogs for individuals who are blind, who are in need of mobility assistance, who are deaf, and even for those who have seizures. Recently service dogs have been trained to support families with children with ASD.
Most programs offering “therapy” dogs require families to make a financial contribution and to learn how to work with the trained dogs. Each dog undergoes extensive training to learn its work, to be obedient, to support the needs of its clients, etc. This training is costly, and families are expected to raise funds or in some way help pay for this instruction. Additionally, families are almost always expected to participate in training along with their dog, under the supervision of a professional trainer, before the dog is released into their service. Each organization has a slightly different policy.
- An Introduction to Complementary and Alternative Medicine
- Evaluating Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) for Treating Symptoms of ASD