A question I get asked frequently is what is the difference between a service dog and a therapy dog? When families are thinking of adding a dog to their family, they want to make sure that they make the right decision about what kind of dog to get.
There are 3 types of dogs to choose from when deciding what would be the best fit for your child with autism. There are also particular breeds that are better suited to each type of dog for an individual with autism.
What is a therapy dog?
Therapy dogs are dogs that are trained to be a calming influence in therapeutic settings. You may see therapy dogs in hospitals, medical clinics, therapeutic play spaces, in schools and even on airplanes!
We have 2 therapy dogs, Violette and Chou Chou at my learning house, Le Chemin ABA in Paris. You can read their story here. The kids who come here each day love interacting with Violette and Chou Chou. We work on gross motor, communication and floor play activities with them.
Some of my favorite breeds for companion dogs for children with autism are yorkshire terriers, golden retrievers, labradors, mini poodles and havanese.
What is a service dog?
Service dogs are impeccably trained to sense danger and accompagny individuals with special needs. This is the right kind of dog for you if your child has epilepsy or has a tendancy to wander. Specially trained service dogs can guide your child back to safety or alert you of an epileptic attack.
Golden retrievers and labradors are particularly well adapted to being trained as service dogs.
Service dogs watch over their little owners, keeping them safe day in and day out. The average training time for a certified service dogs is 2 years, so you cannot bring a service dog home as a puppy. However, most programs suggest that the future dog and family spend time together during puppy training.
What is a companion dog?
A companion dog could be a well-trained family pet or a dog that you get as a puppy with your child. A lot of families ask me if they can involve their current family pet in their child’s therapy and/or to facilitate increased communication, learning and fun at home. I say “absolutely!”, as long as the dog is well-trained – meaning calm, not aggressive and patient with your child. You can welcome your family dog into play and organized activities with your child to increase interaction and learning at home! I will be writing more about this soon, so if this topic interests you, check back soon!
Some of my favorite breeds for companion dogs are yorkshire terriers, golden retrievers, labradors, mini poodles and havanese.
Should you purchase or adopt a dog for your child?
I always caution parents when it comes to adopting a therapy dog or companion dog because you do not know the history of the dog. You want to make sure that the dog you choose is calm, does not feel threatened by your child and can be trained to follow your lead.
If you are looking for more ideas about autism therapy animals, I have created an entire animal-assisted therapy board on Pinterest! Come follow.
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