dogs

Pets and autism

It has been fully documented that children who suffer from autism can benefit from living with a pet. However, a new study by Gretchen Carlisle, a research scientist with the Research Center for Human-Animal Interaction in the MU College of Veterinary Medicine has found that the parents of autistic children also benefit from having a pet in the family. Having a pet reduces the stress in parents despite the extra responsibility of owning and caring for a pet.

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The study goes on to stress that the right type of pet should be selected that will help the autistic child. They suggest that in some cases a quieter cat may be better than an active dog. Certain types of birds or small animals might also qualify as a pet. They also suggest that the child be included in the selection of the type of pet.

As a certified animal behavior consultant, I want to add that if the family decides to adopt a pet, extra care must be taken to ensure that there are no behavioral issues with the pet that could cause an extra level of responsibility for the parents. For any child, being forced to rehome a pet due to behavioral issues after the child becomes attached to the pet is not a desirable situation.

This is why it is important to thoroughly research the types of pets as well as the individual animal to make sure it is suitable for the spectrum of autism the child has. One way to do this is to consult with a qualified dog, parrot or cat behavior consultant (iaabc.org) or an experienced dog trainer if a dog is a consideration.

Do bigger brains mean smarter dogs?

According to a study conducted by Daniel Horschler, a UA anthropology doctoral student and member of the UA’s Arizona Canine Cognition Center, dogs with bigger brains can perform certain tasks better than dogs with smaller brains. The researchers found that larger-brained breeds had better short-term memory and self-control than smaller dogs, regardless of the extent of training the dogs had received.

The tests showed that brain size did not determine a dog’s performance on tests of social intelligence such as being able to follow where a person points or with the dog’s inferential and physical reasoning ability.

What the study did not define is what is considered small and what is considered large? What the study also did not seem to take into account is the difference between the way humans relate, handle and treat small vs large dogs. As a canine behavior consultant and dog trainer I have seen a vast difference between the way owners treat and relate to large vs small dogs. For example, you do not see owners carrying their Labrador Retrievers around in backpacks or pushing them in strollers. Often small dogs are not allowed to act like dogs whereas large dogs are allowed to act like a dog should act. It is interesting to consider.