Activities For Dogs With Autism

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Introduction

While the subject of canine autism is still somewhat contested, recent studies indicate that the disorder, usually referred to as canine dysfunctional behavior in dogs, may be caused by a lack of mirror neurons present in the brain. Dogs that have this disorder have many of the same symptoms and signs that humans with autism have, including spinning, an aversion to physical interactions, and awkward social interactions, both with humans and with other canines, and it can present somewhat differently from dog to dog. This is not a disorder that can be caught or developed, it is present from birth, and although it is manageable, it is not at this time a curable condition.

Taking a Walk

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Any Day
Free
Easy
15 - 60 min
Items needed
Leash
Harness or collar
Activity description

Exercise and physical activities are especially important for individuals with symptoms of autism; they can help to improve motor skills, reduce anxiety, and can even lead to improved social functioning, and this is true for both humans and canines. While more complex activities are often quite easy for many autistic dogs to pick up, simple everyday activities often have the most impact on their overall quality of life. Adding a walk into your canine companion’s daily routine that is focused on exercise rather than just elimination or exploration may not only improve their physical health, but it can have a positive influence on their mental and emotional health as well. 

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1
Comfort and control
Dogs who have been classified as autistic are often particularly sensitive to touch and may even recoil from their favorite people. To make walks a more comfortable experience it may be wise to test several types of harnesses or collars. Some dogs with sensory issues may be more comfortable wearing light blocking sunglasses or booties, while others may be vehemently opposed to the idea.
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The importance of routine
Most dogs who display autistic behaviors thrive best with a set routine, and this activity is one that is often particularly beneficial as part of a routine, something that your dog can expect at set intervals and at a specific time each day, preferably one with as few stressors as possible. Although varying the route is appreciated by a large number of dogs with neurotypical development, those that are suspected of having autism generally prefer routine in this aspect as well, sticking with the same path each time.
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Emotional cues
Many autistic dogs do not express emotion as naturally as most canines, so it is particularly important to pay attention to physical cues to ensure that your dog is not having any difficulties. Physical cues to watch for when exercising with canines include limping, red or sunken eyes, excessive or sticky saliva, or dry nose and gums.
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Obedience Class

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Any Day
Moderate
Normal
30 - 90 min
Items needed
Leash
Activity description

In many cases, while social interaction is very difficult for dogs with autistic tendencies, they are often particularly good at picking up new tricks, and consistently remembering them - often becoming star pupils. A small group obedience class may be able to provide your dog with exposure to other dogs without the expectation of interacting with them much, as well as encouraging bonding time between you and your pet. Not all autistic dogs will be able to handle even the minor interaction that is experienced in obedience classes, however, a large number of them will benefit from this type of activity, emotionally, physically, and mentally. 

Step
1
Choose a class
Choosing the best class for your specific dog may take a little homework if you have a dog that has symptoms of autism. These canines tend to react more intensely to certain stimuli, such as loud or sudden sounds, bright lights or moving shadows, or tactile stimuli, so classes that are held in loud pet stores or in crowded dog parks may be less than ideal. Contacting the potential trainer and discussing your dog's specific foibles may also help to ensure that you have the right fit.
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Attending class
Dogs that are classified as autistic tend to be resistant to change, however many pet parents to these unusual dogs find that introducing changes to their dogs gradually is the best way to prevent a negative reaction. You can introduce the change to your dog slowly by taking your dog to the area the class will be at, maybe walking them on the sidewalk in front of the building, or walking them up to the door. Many trainers are likely open to letting you and your pet tour the facility when it is quieter and even meeting your pooch prior to the start of classes.
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Coming home
For a dog that is easily overstimulated an activity like obedience classes, while it is likely to be ultimately beneficial, is an exhausting experience. They may be even less responsive to physical interaction like petting than they usually are and allowing them to retreat to their crate or another quiet, soothing spot for a little while may help them to recover their equilibrium.
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Canine Massage

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Any Day
Cheap
Normal
30 - 90 min
Items needed
Blanket or Towel
A comfortable place for your dog to lay down
Activity description

Most dogs that are identified as having autism are uncomfortable with physical touch, often in any form. Canine massage is an exercise that may help to desensitize your dog to physical touch in a fairly low-key way, which allows for a safer and more comfortable experience when physical touch is a necessity, such as when your dog is being groomed or when they require a physical examination, as well as improving the bond between pet and person. Making this activity a part of your routine also gives you the opportunity to check every inch of your dog’s body for lumps, bumps, bugs, or bites, something that is often a challenge with a dog that is uncomfortable with touch. 

Step
1
Visit the vet
While dogs that are diagnosed with canine dysfunctional disorder are typically sensitive to touch, it is a good idea to ensure that there are no underlying conditions that may be causing additional aversions. Some conditions that could make canine massage less comfortable if left undiagnosed include skin allergies, arthritis, or even bacterial or fungal infections.
Step
2
Learn the techniques
There are several ways in which to learn canine massage techniques. Some people may be comfortable learning from a book or finding an instructional video or documentary to instruct them, but many others prefer more personal instruction. If you are one of these people, you are in luck. Canine massage is becoming more and more popular, making it fairly easy to find an instructional class on the subject.
Step
3
Control the environment
Massage is much more beneficial if the individual receiving the massage is relaxed. In order to ensure that your autistic animal is relaxed, control the environment. Choose a quiet space with low lighting and sounds that are soothing to your pet as well as a comfortable place to lay down while they are being massaged. Many dogs are responsive to aromatherapy as well, although more diffuse amounts of scent are often appreciated.
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Crate Cover

This is less an activity, and more a way to retreat from activity and over-stimulation. A crate cover can help reduce glare from lighting as well as dampening sounds, features which will help your pooch feel safer and more comfortable.

Hand Targeting

Teaching your canine companion hand targeting is a great way to work their mind and may provide a distraction when outside stimuli are becoming too overwhelming.

Conclusion

Even though many dogs that are diagnosed with canine dysfunctional behavior, a disorder with strong parallels to autism, are unable to easily express themselves and may frequently get overstimulated, it does not mean that they lack the same basic needs as other dogs. Ensuring that your autistic dog gets enough mental and physical activity will go a long way towards improving their quality of life.