What Are the Best Small Dogs for Kids with High Functioning Autism?

Updated on December 28, 2015
M.G. asks from Flower Mound, TX
19 answers

Hello! We have 3 boys, ages 12, 9, and 7. All of them want a dog, but we are especially looking for a dog that would be great for our 9 y/o boy who has high functioning Autism. Can anyone please recommend small dogs that are great for kids with Autism/special needs? The dog would need to be very friendly, love to cuddle, and have a calm temperament. Thanks!

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answers from Portland on

I suggest that each dog has their own personality. My cousin has a small dog that is known to be calm. She is very hyper. My 12 yo high functioning autistic grandson has two reactions to this dog he loves. He either gets emotionally agitated because the dog won't get involved in a quiet way or he becomes hyper chasing after the dog. He is able to ignore the dog once my cousin contains the situation by removing the dog or holding her until she is calmer.

4 moms found this helpful


answers from New York on

First, have you ever had a dog. If not, think long and hard about this. Go to a shelter, talk to them in depth.

3 moms found this helpful

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answers from Chicago on

I can't comment about bred size, but I would start to research therapy dog rejects.

They are dogs in training programs to be service dogs and just don't make the mark for some reason. But they may have several of the qualities you might be looking for.

But realize that dogs respond to their environment. If they are in an environment where the expectations of the animal and consequences are very clear and consistent then you will have a great animal.

But if you can't put in the time and effort, and be consistent in training...then you, the dog, and your family will not be happy.

Please do your research.

Good luck!

6 moms found this helpful


answers from Iowa City on

Your best bet is to find a shelter and ask them to recommend an older dog (not a pup) with a calm, friendly temperament. The shelter workers should be familiar with the dogs available and should be able to help you out.

Or maybe a pet rescue place where people foster the dogs. My parents have adopted two dogs from such agencies. Both a small and friendly. Both are mutts.

5 moms found this helpful


answers from Beaumont on

My parents always preferred Yorkshire terriers. We must have had 7 in my childhood years. Some were sassy, some chilled, some neurotic some were your "best friends". If it were me, I would not judge any dog based on breed but spend time with them and the caretaker to discover the personality of that individual dog. Please consider a rescue organization for whatever breed you prefer. If you get an older dog they are more likely to be chilled and if you share your needs with the leader of the organization, they could probably narrow it down to 2 or 3 before you even get there. There are so many wonderful dogs out there. With 3 boys to play with, it'll surely be a lucky dog!

4 moms found this helpful


answers from San Francisco on

Your boys may want a dog but have no doubt this will be YOUR dog, so of course get one that's good with kids but for sure you need to know within a few months (or less) your boys will be bored with it and you will be stuck with all the love, care, feeding, exercise, grooming and vet bills. FOR MANY YEARS.
I am still taking care of a rabbit I got for my daughter when she was SEVEN, and she's been away at college for two years now :-(
Having said that, each dog is an individual, but generally speaking small dogs tend to be more needy, high strung, harder to housebreak and not as good with children.
Your best bet is to check out local rescue groups//shelters, especially an SPCA if you have one nearby. Take the whole family, go in and meet the dogs, talk to the workers and get to know some animals. They will be able to steer you in the right direction based on your family dynamic and needs.

4 moms found this helpful


answers from St. Louis on

My son always loved our Goldens, yup, not small dogs but after age two, very calm. My daughter got a goldendoodle that we are currently babysitting. She is 9 months old and not very calm. Drives him nuts!! He will be fine when she grows up.

His grandma has all sorts of little dogs, he hates them all because they bark, they bite, they are annoying.

So yeah, I am not very helpful, sorry

Oh yeah, my point, don't get a puppy.

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Washington DC on

looking for a breed isn't a bad place to start, but there's more that goes into it. my son adopted a beagle who are known to be laid-back and charming. she has all the charm, but due to previous incidents, she's a seething mass of anxiety and behavior problems.
and most small breeds are nasty. (sorry, small breed lovers! :D)
rescue is a better place to start, but some rescues are so desperate to place their animals that they don't do due diligence, and if you just adopt someone else's problems it may not end well for you all, and more importantly for the dog.
i suggest you find a really good rescue that insists on doing a home inspection, in-depth interviews and multiple meetings before allowing you to take a dog. these rescues get dissed a lot because of all the hoops you have to jump through, but these are the smart ones who do everything possible to make sure the family and the dog is the right fit. they don't want their dogs coming back with broken hearts.
a small dog also might not be a great fit with lots of busy bustling boys as roughhousing can be terrifying to a small creature who is in real danger of being injured.
find a really good rescue and work with them. listen hard to their experienced advice, and don't just fall for a pleading pair of beautiful eyes.

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Boston on

Can you add more about your experience with raising dogs and what your concerns are? All kids want a dog and they say they will take care of it, but that wears off by the 2nd day and then it's YOUR dog to fed, train, walk and clean up after!

Do you want/need a specially trained service animal? If not, what are the special considerations of your middle child? For example, do your kids rough house a lot? Then you don't want a small, fragile-boned dog. Does your 9 year old react to high pitched sounds? Then you don't want a small yappy dog. Do you have a fenced in yard? If not, then you don't want a big, active dog in need of a lot of exercise.

Are you prepared for the training and care of a puppy? Do you have experience with this and do you know how long it will take? If not, consider going to a shelter for an adult dog that already has some training and is housebroken. You still have to retrain them to your home, but at least they have a head start. Rescue dogs have special challenges, so figure out ahead of time what you are doing re access to the entire house or not, where you will confine or crate the dog, what you will do during the day (school and work), and what you will do on vacations (take it with you, board it, etc.). Are you going to let the dog on the furniture? Then you don't want a heavily-shedding dog like a golden retriever.

A lot of rescue dogs need special attention, which can be good for a kid who wants to cuddle all the time, but not good if you plan to leave it a lot (it's already been abandoned once, and may be sensitive to being alone during the day or kenneled during vacations.

The best thing about shelters is that they KNOW the dogs! They know general characteristics of certain breeds, but they also evaluate each individual dog for its own personality. A huge percentage of dogs at shelters are mixed breeds, which can give you the best of several worlds.

When we rescued our dog, we had a 5 page application in which we had to detail our knowledge, experience, our budget, our plans if we moved or traveled, the makeup of the household, and much much more. I'm so grateful to the shelter for doing this because they really gathered a lot of info and made a really good match between family and dog. She's a snuggly, cuddly lap dog and doesn't shed, but she would not have been a good match for a family of kids! Our neighbors got a larger dog, about a year old, who is terrific with kids - the point is, work with someone who knows the dogs as well as their pedigree, and consider a mutt as well as a thoroughbred. If you do not have a lot of experience with dogs, promise yourself now that you will go to dog training classes - they're more for the humans than for the dogs! Most "bad dogs" just don't have good or knowledgable owners.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Portland on

Would you have access to a program that matches kids with therapy dogs? Your child may not require a therapy dog where he is high functioning, but I wonder if you might be able to contact such a program to see if they could help find a suitable match for your child and family. Good luck :)

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Washington DC on

We love our pug. They are lap dogs and love attention, most of the time. Our dog has never snapped, growled, or even shown teeth to any one. However, when he has had enough, he will definitely retreat. He is great with small kids. Kids will always run up to him (something you should never do with a dog, btw), but he just takes the petting. He's 9 now, so he has a little less tolerance for the touching, again though, he has never shown any time of aggression, even when bothered. When he was a puppy and about up until 6 (the same time my twins were born), he would beg for the attention. They live until about 14-16, but can have health problems. We've been lucky and his worse problem is a sore back occasionally, which we treat with aspirin.I would suggest a dog around 1.5-2 years old. Most of the time they are already trained, but shouldn't have too much trouble bonding depending on their upbringing. But you get to skip the horrible puppy training. Our pug, and most dogs will bite when they are puppies because they are teething. We got ours as a puppy before kids, so we didn't have to deal with him biting any children. I can't say enough how much we love him and we will always have pugs. Definitely research the breed, because they are awesome.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Washington DC on

I would talk to a rescue. Perhaps they have a nice mutt that would be good with kids and has a known good personality. Growing up we had a miniature poodle (but he was bigger than average) very smart and good with kids. I wouldn't get the tiny toy or teacup variety, though.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Chicago on

I had a terrific small dog as a kid. Since then, I've yet to meet another. They tend towards anxiety....

There is a reason big dogs are usually considered family dogs.

Look into a therapy dog.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Lakeland on

Boston Terriers or Pugs are great small family dogs, but all dogs will need training.

Can you look into somewhere that offers service dogs for Autistic kids? Or will train a dog of your choosing?

I have a Boston Terrier and she is the sweetest most loving dog I have ever known (she will put up with so much from kids (like dress up, etc.) and never snap or growl), she is also hyper when she first meets people (and other dogs) and will jump. She is a companion dog, that's what Boston's were bred to do.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Oklahoma City on

Blue Heelers are good with kids, they herd them back where the boundaries are. I've enjoyed watching them with the kids outside with different aged kids. It's really funny sometimes. They often treat them like they're their puppies are they're wandering off.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from San Francisco on

We have special needs kids and have had 2 Papillion over the last 15 years. Both very family friendly dogs. They were not litter mates, but from totally different breeders, so we didn't just get "lucky." Neither are/were (one has passed away) really barky dogs - they bark when people knock, that is it. Both of our Papillion were/are really smart and in fact we gave our younger Papillion to my dad after his stroke because she would go bonkers if he fell down. We found that both of our dogs really just wanted to bond to one person so if you are trying to have the dog essentially be for one certain person, that person has to spend the majority of the time with the animal and be its main caretaker. I believe that if it is a group effort, you will not see that "bonding" happen. Good luck!


answers from Santa Fe on

I would pick a calm, non-nervous dog that is not a barker. Small dogs tend to bark a lot...not all breeds but the ones I have known! Many small dogs tend to be anxious too. Of course some large dogs can also be anxious, but it seems like more of the small breeds are. And I would definitely do a puppy training class and then later an obedience class (or even more than one!). So, you will need to meet the dog first to make sure it has a calm personality. You can get calm golden retrievers or you can get hyper ones. Same with labrador retrievers. We know several people who have gotten a labradoodle and are very happy with their dog and how they interact with their kids. It's one of those designer breeds...a mix between a lab and a poodle. We have a calm husky mix who is very sweet, passive, and well behaved...and very good with kids. She has had many dog obedience classes. I used to do agility classes with her for fun. Almost any dog you get will have more energy for the first two years and then as they get more mature they will be calmer. It is important to work with them daily on obedience and to give them exercise daily (not just letting them out into the back yard). Be sure to meet your dog first. Make sure you are not picking one with an alpha personality. Make sure the dog does not seem to be anxious around kids. Make sure the dog is not possessive with toys and food (some dogs will growl/snap). Make sure the dog shows no aggression and seems to be calm. One of my dogs was a very calm puppy and he was the BEST dog his whole life...almost never did anything wrong. He always considered us to be his alphas and he was always so well behaved.


answers from Springfield on

i love my rottie. we have had 3 total rott mixes and all 3 were great with the kids, easy to train, and 2 of them were basically floormats unless you told them to do something.the one we have now lets my 3 yr old ride him like hes a horse. my sister-in-law is on her second rott. love them. the first i never met but am told that she was motherly to her 2 kids that were babies at the time. the one she has now is content to lay at your feet and do whatevey you tell him to do.
we have a husky mix and shes motherly, will clean up after the kids but often wants to be outside when the kids are in and keeps them in line when outside
when i was growing up the neighbor bred cocker spaniels, the mom was calm and good with everyone, dads were different. and the pups would have different personalities some were mean, some noisy, others calm. there were the bity ones and playful ones and lazy ones all in the same litter of pups
so make sure you do a ton of research and a ton of training with the dog you get.
my current neighbor has a dog that can predict her seizures so the right dog can be a blessing



answers from Chicago on

Our golden doodle just turned 1. He is pretty good for a puppy and is getting more obedient over time. He is now 74 pounds but there are mini golden doodles that are much smaller. This way you won't have to deal with a small yappy dog. Dogs are a lot of work, so think about this a lot before you commit.

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