Autism is easily the most misunderstood of all the behavioral conditions. Typically we only hear about Autism in relation to humans. But can Autism also affect our canine companions? Yes, Autism has been shown to be prevalent in dogs as well. Since 1966 an extensive DNA analysis study of different canine breeds has linked this condition to a variety of dogs. Research is still being performed in understanding and diagnosing Autism.
Autism is a neurological condition and not a disease. Autism is a developmental disability that affects social, emotional, and communication skills, which may involve repetitive speech and movements. Simply put, those with this condition may not interact, communicate, learn, or behave like most others. It's important to recognize that Autism is a spectrum disorder, meaning their thinking and abilities can range from significantly challenged to gifted. If you've met one person with Autism, you've met ONE person with Autism.
What Are the Signs of Autism in Dogs?
Behavioral and Neurological Signs
It may become apparent that from a young age, the puppy is randomly scared or avoids objects and people who typically pose no threat. He may have no interest in other pets or new toys. A behavior of becoming fixated on an object and standing still for long periods of time are peculiar actions noted. The canine may become excessively aggressive and must be calmed when the routine of the day is disrupted. Understand that the order or sequence of events is different, and the stress of this chaos perceived by him must be expressed in the only way the dog knows. Unrestrained running around and challenging anyone trying to intervene is a tactic known to relieve the animal's anxiety. It is essential to rule out any physical medical issues that may be causing intense behavior.
Disinterest in Social Interaction and Physical Activity
Showing aversion to socialization is a sure sign of Autism. As in humans, some behavior is moderate, while other conduct is extreme. Generally, when called or spoken to, the dog may ignore the command or look away. Due to stress, eating regular dog food may upset his stomach, causing him to skip meals. Vomiting and diarrhea may often occur. As humans, we want our dogs to enjoy just being with us or laying next to our bed or chair. This may be an impossible request for a dog with Autism. He may prefer to be by himself in a pen or kennel. As his den, this space may bring him comfort because it poses no threats or demands.
Sensory Processing Reactions
Autistic dogs feel everything differently from other canines. A simple loving stroke may cause the animal to bristle and pull away. Voices and sounds, although familiar, may put him on edge, causing the dog to walk or pace. If objects move quickly, this stimulus might cause him to take chase or attack.
What Causes Autism in Dogs?
There are many theories about what causes Autism. Scientists think it can be genetics or neurological over-development or underdevelopment of brain circuits.
Most dogs enjoy and benefit from sufficient exercise, proper training, and obedience methods, along with socialization and love. Each breed has behaviors that are unique to them. It is vital to be informed about what is particular to your dog and do not confuse it with Autism. It is a well-known fact that the canine is most happy when it gets to perform in a manner for which it is bred.
Several dog breeds are deemed to be extremely sensitive. Genetics determines the physical traits, size, color, behavior, and susceptibility to disease. There are striking differences between the different dog types. A few breeds are known for their sensitivity as well as their ability to display aggression. German Shepherd Dogs, Rottweilers, Staffordshire Bull Terriers, American Pit Bull Terriers, Standard Poodles, and even the little Chihuahua are extremely gentle with their handler or owner. Still, they will aggressively stand their ground when they perceive an outside threat. Whether it is 5 pounds or 200 pounds, each dog is genetically coded.
The factoring of health, physiology, form, function, and behavior is still a matter we do not fully understand.
How to Help an Autistic Dog
If you think you may have an Autistic dog, there are many ways you can help him. First, seek professional advice from behaviorist trainers and veterinarians that truly understand this disorder. Sometimes medications prescribed are difficult to monitor and can lead to adverse reactions because of chemical sensitivity associated with Autism. Do not use conventional trainers or those who have no empathy for this disability.
Understand that the dog with Autism does not have the capacity to be obedience trained, not because he does not want to...it is because he literally cannot. Even the ordinary things we associate with what dogs typically do is foreign to him. This sentient being is like a Mac in a PC world. Simple things can overwhelm an already delicate mind. How he sees and senses something is different than how you see them. He clearly is hard-wired differently. What is even more frustrating for the dog is that he cannot talk.
If you got your dog as a puppy and you learn that he has Autism, know that you are on a road of patience and empathy. Be prepared to hear that you do not know how to train, or you are too lenient. Instead, take this as a gift as you will learn and do things you would never do. Practice finding new things that he might find enjoyable. Should you find that any activity causes an emotional meltdown, stop and calm the animal by hugging him gently, speaking softly.
Dancing with Dogs Training
This is a fun way to keep your canine engaged and teach him to have fun. Do not try to obtain perfection, as the goal is to eliminate stress. Sometimes soft or joyful music is calming. This activity may give your dog the behaviors you prefer and give your dog the tools to let you know what he wants.
Water Therapy Pool
Swimming in a water therapy pool for dogs at a comfortable temperature is another way to enhance your relationship and bonding. The dog should wear a life preserver, and you can accompany him in the pool. Your reassurance will be calming and give him confidence.
Autism is often associated with gastrointestinal tract issues and poor immune response. Offer a special diet to calm the gastric juices, which can play havoc on the digestive system. A holistic home-made low FODMAP diet with a pre-biotic may help. (See our article on the 10 best foods we recommend)
Once your dog feels safe with you and the situations that cause high anxiety is controlled, you are on a rewarding journey of love and understanding. Your goal is to be aware of his limited emotional abilities and always to be a benevolent leader.
* I, personally have a ten-year-old son with High Functioning Autism. He was diagnosed at 2 1/2 years old. I cannot stress enough, the importance of early intervention; whether for your child or your pup! - Feel free to support my son's YouTube channel - KyloBen Gamer *
Welcome to the Pack!
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