Effects of Pet Dogs for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) and their Families: Expectations versus Reality

Hannah Wright1, Sophie Hall1, Annette Hames1, Jessica Hardiman1,2, Aaron Burgess1, PAWS Team2, Richard Mills3, & Daniel Mills1
1University of Lincoln, School of Life Sciences,
2Dogs for Good, & 3Research Autism, Adam House

Previous studies have examined the specific benefits of therapy and assistance dogs on children with autism, but until recently only anecdotes existed concerning the benefits of pet dogs. We conducted structured interviews with 40 parents of children with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) to investigate the perceived impact of pet dogs. Half the sample (20) owned a pet dog and half the sample was looking to acquire one. Restrictions associated with dog ownership were underestimated, whilst enjoyment, fun and improvements in communication and social interaction were overestimated by the non-owners, indicating important areas where expectations are unlikely to be met. These areas represent important factors to consider when deciding whether to acquire a pet dog in families living with ASD, and as such is of interest to a broad audience including clinicians, veterinarians and parents.

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