Autism Service Dogs: Benefits & Impact

In this article, we'll explore the benefits of autism service dogs, how they are trained, and some of the different types of tasks they can perform.

reuben kesherim
Ruben Kesherim
July 7, 2023

Autism Service Dogs: Benefits & Impact

Autism Service Dogs

Autism service dogs are highly trained canines that provide support and assistance to individuals with autism. These dogs are specially trained to perform tasks such as calming and providing comfort during sensory overload situations, interrupting self-harming behaviors, and helping their handlers navigate social situations.

adult tricolored dog lying on brown wood parquet

Benefits of Autism Service Dogs

Autism service dogs can have a profound impact on the lives of individuals with autism and their families. One of the primary benefits of these dogs is their ability to provide emotional support and comfort during times of stress.

Many individuals with autism struggle with sensory overload, which can lead to anxiety and panic attacks. Service dogs are trained to recognize when their handler is experiencing stress and can provide comfort and a calming presence.

Another benefit of autism service dogs is their ability to help their handlers navigate social situations. Many individuals with autism struggle with social interaction and can find it challenging to make friends or interact with peers. Service dogs can provide a bridge to social interaction by acting as a conversation starter or providing a focus for their handler during social situations.

In addition to emotional support and social assistance, autism service dogs can also perform a variety of practical tasks. For example, they can retrieve items on command, interrupt self-harming behaviors, and provide a sense of security when out in public.

Training Autism Service Dogs

Training an autism service dog is a highly specialized and rigorous process. The first step is selecting a suitable dog breed. Breeds that are commonly used for autism service dogs include Golden Retrievers, Labrador Retrievers, and Poodles. These breeds are known for their intelligence, calm demeanor, and ability to work well with people.

Once a suitable dog has been selected, the training process begins. The dog must go through basic obedience training, followed by specialized training to perform tasks specific to the needs of individuals with autism. This can include training the dog to recognize sensory overload cues, interrupt self-harming behaviors, and provide emotional support.

The training process can take up to two years and requires intensive work from both the dog and the trainer. Once the dog has completed its training, it is matched with an individual with autism based on their specific needs and lifestyle.

Types of Tasks Autism Service Dogs Can Perform

Autism service dogs can perform a wide variety of tasks depending on the needs of their handlers. Some of the most common tasks include:

  • Sensory overload assistance: Dogs can provide a calming presence and interrupt sensory overload behaviors such as pacing or rocking.
  • Emotional support: Dogs can provide comfort and emotional support during times of stress or anxiety.
  • Social interaction: Dogs can act as a conversation starter or provide a focus for their handler during social situations.
  • Safety and security: Dogs can provide a sense of security when out in public and assist with navigation.
  • Practical assistance: Dogs can retrieve items on command, open and close doors, and perform other practical tasks.

The Cost of Training and Maintaining an Autism Service Dog

Training an autism service dog is a long and expensive process. The cost can vary depending on several factors, such as the breed of the dog, the location of the training program, and the specific needs of the handler. On average, the cost to train an autism service dog can range from $20,000 to $30,000.

The cost covers expenses such as food, veterinary care, equipment such as vests and leashes, and specialized training for tasks such as interrupting self-harming behaviors and providing emotional support. In addition to training costs, there are ongoing maintenance costs associated with owning an autism service dog.

Handlers are responsible for covering all ongoing expenses related to their dog's care. This includes food, grooming supplies, veterinary care, and equipment replacement. Handlers may also need to budget for unexpected expenses such as emergency medical care or equipment repairs.

Despite the high cost associated with training and maintaining an autism service dog, many handlers find that having a trained canine companion is invaluable in improving their quality of life. Some organizations offer financial assistance or fundraising resources to help offset some of these costs for families who cannot afford them on their own.

Applying for an Autism Service Dog

If you're interested in getting an autism service dog, the first step is to find a reputable organization that trains and places these dogs. Many organizations have waiting lists, so it's important to start the application process as soon as possible.

The application process typically involves filling out a detailed questionnaire and providing documentation of your diagnosis and treatment plan. Some organizations may also require a home visit or in-person interview to assess your living situation and determine if it is suitable for a service dog.

Once your application has been reviewed and accepted, you will be placed on a waiting list. The wait time can vary depending on the organization and the demand for their services.

When a dog becomes available, you will be matched with a dog based on your specific needs and lifestyle. The organization will work with you to ensure that the dog is trained to perform tasks that are tailored to your individual needs.

Owning an autism service dog is a big responsibility. Handlers must commit to ongoing training and care for their dogs, as well as being responsible for all associated expenses. However, many handlers find that the benefits of having an autism service dog far outweigh the challenges, and they can make a significant positive impact on their lives.

The Impact of Autism Service Dogs on Families

Autism service dogs not only have a profound impact on the individual with autism but also on their families. Family members can experience a sense of relief knowing that their loved one has a trained companion to provide emotional support and assistance during challenging situations.

Having an autism service dog can also help improve communication and socialization within families. For example, siblings may feel more comfortable interacting with their brother or sister with autism when the dog is present, providing a shared point of interest and reducing anxiety.

In addition, having an autism service dog can make it easier for families to engage in activities outside of the home. Many individuals with autism struggle with sensory overload in public spaces, which can make outings challenging. With a trained canine companion by their side, individuals with autism may feel more confident and secure venturing out into unfamiliar environments.

Overall, the impact of autism service dogs extends beyond just the individual with autism to their entire family unit. These dogs provide emotional support, improved communication and socialization, and increased independence for individuals with autism while offering peace of mind and greater freedom for their families.

Types of Organizations Providing Autism Service Dogs

There are several types of organizations that provide autism service dogs, including non-profit organizations, for-profit businesses, and programs within correctional facilities. Each organization has its own selection criteria for both the dogs they use and the individuals they serve.

Non-profit organizations typically rely on donations to fund their programs and offer their services at little or no cost to families in need. These organizations often have strict selection criteria for both the dogs they use and the individuals they serve.

For example, some may require a formal diagnosis of autism and a doctor's recommendation letter before considering an application. Others may require families to demonstrate financial need or participate in fundraising efforts.

For-profit businesses that provide autism service dogs often charge fees for their services. These fees can range from several thousand dollars up to $50,000 or more depending on the organization and the specific needs of the individual with autism. Some for-profit businesses also offer financing options or work with insurance companies to help offset costs.

Programs within correctional facilities are another type of organization that provides autism service dogs. In these programs, inmates train and socialize puppies who will eventually go on to become service dogs for individuals with autism. These programs offer benefits such as reduced recidivism rates for inmates and lower costs for families in need of a service dog.

Regardless of the type of organization providing autism service dogs, it's important to thoroughly research any potential provider before applying. This includes checking their accreditation status, reading reviews from other families who have worked with them, and asking questions about their selection criteria and training process.

Legal Considerations for Individuals with Autism who use a Service Dog in Public Places

Individuals with disabilities, including those with autism, are protected by law to have their service animals accompany them in public places. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) defines a service animal as a dog that is trained to perform specific tasks related to the individual's disability.

Under the ADA, businesses and organizations that serve the public must allow individuals with disabilities to bring their service animals into all areas where customers are normally allowed to go. This includes restaurants, hotels, stores, and other public places.

However, there are some legal considerations that individuals with autism and their families should be aware of when using a service dog in public places. For example, businesses may ask if the dog is a service animal and what tasks it has been trained to perform. However, they cannot ask about the individual's disability or require documentation or certification for the dog.

It's also important for individuals with autism and their families to understand that they are responsible for ensuring that their service dog is well-behaved in public. If the dog behaves aggressively or disruptively, the business may ask that it be removed from the premises.

In addition to federal law protections under the ADA, some states and local jurisdictions have additional laws regarding service animals. It's important to research these laws before traveling out of state or visiting new locations.

Overall, knowing your rights and responsibilities as an individual with autism who uses a service dog can help ensure a positive experience when accessing public places.

Community Support for Obtaining an Autism Service Dog

Obtaining an autism service dog can be a costly and time-consuming process. However, community support can play a critical role in making it possible for individuals with autism to obtain a trained canine companion.

One way that communities can offer support is through fundraising efforts. Many families turn to crowdfunding platforms or hold local events such as bake sales or silent auctions to raise funds for the cost of training and maintaining a service dog.

In addition to financial support, communities can also provide emotional support to families during the application and training process. This can include offering words of encouragement, connecting families with other individuals who have obtained service dogs, or providing respite care for the individual with autism while their parent or caregiver attends training sessions.

Another way that communities can support individuals with autism who are seeking a service dog is by advocating for increased access to these animals. This includes working with local lawmakers and businesses to ensure that individuals with disabilities are able to bring their service animals into public places without discrimination.

Overall, the role of community support in obtaining an autism service dog cannot be overstated. From fundraising efforts to emotional support, communities play a critical role in making it possible for individuals with autism to improve their quality of life through the companionship of a trained canine companion.

Caring for an Autism Service Dog

Caring for an autism service dog requires a significant commitment of time and resources. Proper care is essential to ensure the health and well-being of the dog, as well as its ability to perform its duties.

Feeding Requirements

Autism service dogs require a balanced diet that provides all of the necessary nutrients for their size and activity level. Many service dog organizations recommend feeding high-quality commercial dog food that meets all of the nutritional requirements set by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO).

Handlers should also be aware of any food allergies or sensitivities their dog may have and avoid feeding them foods that could cause digestive upset or other health issues.

Grooming Requirements

Grooming is an important aspect of caring for an autism service dog. Regular grooming not only helps keep the dog's coat clean and healthy but also provides an opportunity to check for any skin irritations, lumps, or other signs of illness.

Grooming requirements will depend on the breed of the dog but typically include regular brushing, bathing, nail trimming, and ear cleaning. Handlers should also be aware of any specific grooming needs their dog may have based on its coat type or skin sensitivity.

Exercise Requirements

Regular exercise is essential for maintaining the physical and mental health of an autism service dog. The amount and type of exercise required will depend on factors such as age, breed, and overall health.

Handlers should aim to provide their dogs with at least 30 minutes to an hour of moderate exercise each day. This can include walking, running, playing fetch, or participating in other activities that allow the dog to burn off excess energy.

Some dogs may have restrictions on their exercise due to certain medical conditions or injuries. Handlers should work closely with their veterinarian to develop a safe and appropriate exercise plan for their individual dog.

In addition to these basic care requirements, handlers should also be prepared for unexpected health issues or emergencies that may arise. This includes having a plan in place for emergency veterinary care and ensuring that their dog is up to date on all necessary vaccinations and preventative treatments.

Overall, caring for an autism service dog requires a significant commitment of time and resources, but the benefits of having a trained canine companion are immeasurable. By providing proper care and attention, handlers can ensure that their dog is healthy, happy, and able to perform its duties to the best of its abilities.


Autism service dogs are a valuable resource for individuals with autism and their families. These highly trained canines provide emotional support, social assistance, and practical help to their handlers. The training process is rigorous and specialized, but the benefits for those who use autism service dogs are immeasurable.