"I welcome the results of Ms. Carlisle's newly released study, (http://munews.missouri.edu/news-releases/2014/0414-dog-ownership-benefits-families-of-children-with-autism-mu-researcher-finds/
) but I also want to warn families of children with autism who are thinking of rescuing a dog to work with their child.
There is a child/pup team that is getting a touch of publicity of late as they won an award from the ASPCA, and although I think that Xena is a fine example of a rescue dog being a diamond in the rough for Jonny, and although Jonny certainly benefited handsomely from his relationship with Xena, it is important we not overgeneralize and believe that rescuing dogs in general is a good way to also help a child on the autism spectrum.
A much safer and more effective way to create assistance or therapy dog partnerships with children with social/emotional challenges such as autism presents is to carefully breed for soundness as well as temperament, and then to partner the pup as intelligently as possible, handpicking the pup from a quality litter with advanced knowledge of the child to be served to best achieve a optimal "temperamental fit" between dog and child.
Remember, when children are bitten, they are usually bitten on the face, and there are reasons that children with autism are more likely to be bitten by a dog than a typical child that relates to the same issues children on the spectrum may have with people as well (ie, granting a lack of body space, making sudden movements or sounds, inappropriate touching such as sticking fingers into ears or eyes or petting the dog against the grain of the fur.) A quality autism assistance dog placement would include careful supervision of the dog/child team, as well as thought being put into how their relationship can be made therapeutic as well as safe (and fun! Nothing will be gained without this important component for kids and pups~).
Canine tolerance is a genetic quality we can seek as well as breed for and this quality is too important to leave to chance when talking about the life of an innocent child. We now know that it isn't either nature or nurture that creates a dog's ultimate temperament, but an interplay between the two, and so careful socialization of an assistance or therapy dog candidate is also key to the safety as well as effectiveness of the partnership.
With this emerging field, like doctors we must first do no harm..."
Patty Dobbs Gross
North Star Foundationwww.northstardogs.com
We help children find their way.