Background: Autism spectrum disorders (ASD) are characterized by deficits in social reciprocity and communication, and by unusually restricted, repetitive behaviors. Intervention strategies based on the exploitation of the emotional aspects of human-dog relationships hold the potential to overcome the difficulty of subjects with ASD to relate and interact effectively with others, targeting core symptoms of this disorder.
Methods: This review summarizes the results of six published studies on the effects of brief interactions with dogs and the effects of introducing dogs in families with a child diagnosed with ASD, with an emphasis on social behaviors and language use. Furthermore, the possible mechanisms responsible for the beneficial effects observed are discussed.
Conclusions: Although the studies described here are encouraging, further research with better designs and using larger samples is needed to strengthen translation of such interventions to the clinic. In addition, potential applications of analyzing child-dog interactions are highlighted to screen for early signs of the disorder.