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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.