Can Dogs be Autistic? Major Symptoms and Treatments

Although autism has been linked to canines, it hasn’t been yet proved that it is the case of autism. Veterinarians prefer to call this condition “canine dysfunctional behavior.”

The study of autism in dogs has been going since 1966. It involved extensive DNA analysis of different dog breeds. Studies like this one indicate that autism could very well occur in dogs. However, nothing can be proved until more research is done.

Can dogs be autistic? Major symptoms and treatments

Autism, or autism spectrum disorder (ASD), refers to a broad range of conditions characterized by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviors, speech, and nonverbal communication.

A medical condition is always a possible underlier when dogs experience severe behavioral issues like aggression or obsessive licking, however, this can’t be directly linked to autism.

The important fact to understand is that autism is congenital, meaning that dogs or humans cannot suddenly become autistic, they are born with autism.

Early research concludes that these syndromes in dogs could be linked to a genetic condition called fragile X syndrome. Fragile X syndrome is the prevalence of concurrent autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

Diagnosing Autism in Dogs

For a dog to be tentatively diagnosed with autism, it should exhibit atypical repetitive behaviors and some degree of impaired social interaction with dogs and people. A veterinarian must rule out every other condition that might be responsible for the observed autistic syndrome.

Dogs with tendencies of autism onset may entail such signs:

a. Challenges with social skills

If dogs tend to avoid socializing with other dogs, animals, or humans, this may be a sign of underlying problems. Dogs are social animals; hence, lacking social skills can be a sign.

b. Repetitive behaviors

Repetitive behavior refers to repeating certain behaviors or actions, such as grinding teeth, chewing, or walking.

c. Speech and nonverbal communication

Due to difficulties in code processing, emotions and interactions, communication and language development is a challenge for animals with autism.

Possible causes of autism in dogs

The two tell-tell causes of autism in dogs are as follows:

  • Scientists believe that it is caused by underdevelopment in certain brain circuits and the over-development of other sensory circuits.
  • It is also suggested that it could be a condition inherited from parents or forebears.

Symptoms of Autism in Dogs

The major symptoms of autism in dogs include:

i. Lack of Social Interaction

Lack of socialization or social interaction is common in dogs showing the signs of autism. The lack of socialization is common with both dogs and humans. Dogs with poor socialization skills will often ignore your call. It doesn’t usually engage in everyday activities such as playing, eating and even going for a walk.

ii. Behavioral Issue

The peculiar behavior exhibited by autistic dogs doesn’t necessarily involve violent behavior but unusual behavioral issues, such as staring at stuff, avoiding people and objects, running or staying still without any reason. They entail a lack of excitement with new places, new toys, or other pets.

iii. Mental condition

The mental condition of an autistic dog can only be diagnosed by an experienced veterinarian. It is important to rule out every other mental issue before you can tell that your dog has autism. Such dogs cannot exhibit emotions correctly; therefore they can get scared randomly, making them avoid places and people that don’t present any threat to them.

iv. Physical

The physical activity and gesture are less or none in dogs with autism. They will not behave normally. Although you may get the signs of illness, they just do not show any interest in physical activity. Autistic dogs can be tagged as lazy as they don’t want to play or do anything fun.

v. Sensorial

Like autistic children, dogs with autism feel everything differently. They link physical and sensorial stimuli to wrong emotions, and that makes them react in off the wall ways as if they were hurt just by the gentle touch of their owners. This behavior can be disheartening as you don’t know the cause of this sad reaction. It’s important to know that the dog is not acting correctly and it doesn’t mean the owner is doing something wrong.

Possible treatment of autism in dogs

The diagnosis of any canine problems should be carried out by an experienced veterinarian. It’s important to ascertain the underlying emotional or physical problem with the dogs before diagnosing any medical condition.

If you think your dog might have autism, one of the most important things you can do is determine what his or her triggers are (what causes atypical behavior to flare-up) and avoid those things.

For instance, if your dog becomes fearful and aggressive when approached by a stranger, you can avoid taking it to the public places

a. Medicine

There is no definite treatment for autism or autism-related issues. The treatment with medications doesn’t mean your dog will stop having autism, but it can help to curb the symptoms and provide relief. The veterinarians may prescribe Fluoxetine which is already being used to treat OCD and autism problems in people and dogs. Medicine would help to tranquilize your dog and prevent aggressive behaviors.

b. Secure and safe environment

Ensuring a safe habitat for dogs with autism-related issues is a must. Autistic dogs might be afraid of almost everything. If your dog gets nervous and anxious around other people, dogs or animals, and an unknown environment then you should ensure to provide a neutral environment for your dog.

Build a quiet, safe space just for them so they can hide every time they need to.

c. Anti-stress life

Avoid situations that may give stress to your dog or that could cause your pet any stress or anxiety. If the dog doesn’t like to be petted, don’t pet it. If she or he doesn’t like to meet people or dogs, let it be. Learn to be gentle with both and humans who are suffering from autism.

d. Exercise

Exercise can be a good idea to preoccupy their mind. If your dog has plenty of exercise, it will have less stress and anxiety. Dogs can also be trained to do “heavy work” such as pulling a loaded wagon or carrying a doggy backpack filled with soft weight. These sorts of activities are known to help many people with autism.

e. Diet

Learn more about the appropriate diet for dogs with behavioral issues. You must consult with your vet about possible changes in their food regime.

f. Positive Reinforcement

Work with trainers or therapists who specialize in positive reinforcement. Find a trainer who has experience working with dogs who have behavioral concerns; a good trainer should be part of the treatment team for any dog who may be exhibiting autism-like behaviors.

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What causes Aggressive Dog Behavior?

dog-behavioral problem

It can be unusual for a canine to suddenly become aggressive and attack the owner or other people. It can be a frightening experience when a docile and friendly dog becomes hostile. In extreme cases, the dog may bite or even maul your family member and other pets.

It is important to understand how to curb the aggression of the dog and try to minimize the harm that it can cause to itself.

According to a recent study, aggression has become the most common and serious behavioral issue among dogs. It’s also the number-one reason why pet parents seek professional help from behaviorists, trainers, and veterinarians.

What causes aggressive Dog Behavior?

Every animal has a wild instinct that makes them aggressive. Among dogs, aggression encompasses a range of behaviors that may give signs of extreme aggression. Dogs that show aggression may exhibit some of the following sequences:

  • Becoming still and rigid
  • Guttural bark that may sound threatening
  • Lunging forward or charging at others
  • “Muzzle punch” (the dog literally punches the person with her nose)
  • Growl or showing teeth
  • Snarl (a combination of growling and showing teeth)
  • Snap or quick nip that leaves no mark
  • A quick bite that tears the skin
  • Bite with enough pressure to cause a bruise
  • Repeated bites in rapid succession
  • Bite and shake

Although a dog may or may not show any of these signs, it is essential to check with your veterinarian to ensure that your companion isn’t suffering from aggression-inducing issues.

Some of the major causes for the sudden aggressive outbreak are as follows;

i. Illness and Injury

Illness or injury can cause dogs to become aggressive. The onset of diseases or illness can cause a dog to show signs of aggression such as growling, snapping, and biting.

The medical condition may cause pain to dogs that are too often stressful. It may make them react to things. Some possible causes of pain include arthritis, bone fractures, internal injuries, various tumors, and lacerations. Injury to the head may also cause a sudden outbreak of aggression among pets.

The best possible way to deal with it is to take your dog to the nearest vet for the assessment.

ii. Fear

Most fearful dog become defensive or aggressive in most cases. It’s natural for dogs to exhibit aggressive behavior if they sense they're in danger.

When animals are afraid of something, they prefer to run away which is called the flight response. But if escaping isn’t an option, most animals will switch to a fight response.

Fear aggression is characterized by rapid nips or bites because a fearful dog is motivated to bite and then run away. Male and female dogs are equally prone to fear aggression.

To prevent this type of aggressive behavior, you should approach unknown dogs carefully, better yet, let them approach you. Training and socializing help to curb fear in the future.

iii. Possessiveness

Possession aggression occurs when a dog becomes possessive about food, a toy, a bed, or any other forms of possession. A dog exhibiting possession aggression will growl if someone approaches its possession.

Dogs evolved from wild predecessors who had to compete for food, shelter, and mates to survive. Even though they do not have to face such harsh situations, many still show the tendency to guard their possessions against others.

iv. Frustration

Aggression induced by frustration is often referred to as redirected aggression or barrier frustration. Over time, a dog can learn to associate restraint with feelings of frustration. This may explain why some dogs become aggressive when put behind a gate or inside a cage.

A dog may often feel frustrated at not being able to get to something. This type of aggression is often seen in dogs that spend a lot of time tied up, restrained on a leash, or behind a chain-link fence.

As a pet owner, it is important to take your dog off the leash and allow it to roam under supervision. Socializing with other pets or park-play time can help a lot.

v. Territorial Aggression

Inhibiting territorial aggression from their wild relatives such as wolf, a dog can show tendencies of defending the territory from other animals or humans. Dogs sometimes show aggression to establish dominance. Territorial possession can induce dominance among pets.

Territorial aggression can occur along the boundary regularly patrolled by a dog. Other dogs show territorial aggression only toward people or other animals coming into the home.


Can an aggressive dog be cured?

Aggressive behavior in dogs can be cured. It will be impossible to say it can be permanently be cured but the behavioral modification can help to prevent any future hostile behavior.

See Your Veterinarian

The first things you can do is call up your veterinarian. Dogs that show sudden aggressive behavior might have an underlying medical problem that can be assessed by veterinarians. Hypothyroidism, painful injuries, and neurological problems such as encephalitis, epilepsy, and brain tumors can cause aggressive behavior in dogs. The treatment or medication differs from one dog to another.

Call in a Professional

If your dog doesn’t have any medical problem, it's time to call in a professional dog trainer or animal behaviorist. Many dogs may have behavioral problems that can be curbed by proper training, guidance, or therapy offered by an animal behaviorist.

Behavior modification is the safest and most effective way to treat an aggression problem. Rewarding your dog for good behavior through praise, treats, and toys can help a lot.

Avoid Punishment

Many pet owners resort to Punishments for aggressive behavior in dogs. Physical or mental harm can usually backfire and can escalate the aggression. Hitting, yelling or using some other aversive method should be strictly avoided.

Consider Medication

In some cases when the behavioral modification isn’t enough, dogs that are aggressive will require medical attention. You should consult with your vet regarding administering medicine for your pets to relieve them from fear, stress, or anxiety. Fear in many dogs prevents them from learning.

Counterconditioning

Counterconditioning involves using proactive relaxation techniques that the dog will be in without the presence of offending stimuli. Classical counterconditioning involves pairing experience with something positive so that there is an almost reflexive association between the events.

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dog body language

How do you calm an aggressive dog?

You can follow the basic steps provided by your vet or animal trainer to calm down an aggressive dog.

a. Be calm

Keep yourself calm before shouting at your dog! The first instinct is always to shout with your pet, but that can be a terrible idea. Loud scolding can cause your dog to become more defensive which may result in an attack.

You can reduce tension and stay safe by removing social pressure. Pause, slightly turn your head, lower your gaze, and relax your body while remaining still. It’s always better to move away from the dog when off-leash.

b. Practice prevention

It is important to understand what ticked off your dog. Is it because they were fearful of something or someone or did someone tries to meddle with your dog during playtime or while eating?

An animal behaviorist can help you identify what caused your dog to become aggressive, however, it may take them to show up. In the meantime, you must be prepared to calm your dog. Practice management to prevent putting yourself and your dog in a scary situation again.

c. Understand body language

You will get the physical cues when your dog is close to becoming defensive such as hard stare, mouth tightening, pulsating tail (not wagging), and tense body posturing. If your dog positions itself.

Your dog is communicating that it’s uncomfortable. If you try to take away it toy or food or call it out, you’re asking for trouble.

d. Never punish aggressive behavior

As suggested by the experts, you should never scream at your dog, yell, or stick your face in your dog’s face while he’s growling, snarling, or snapping. Adding force and anger to an agitated, uncomfortable, and volatile situation can cause serious injury to both you and your dog.


Can you rehome an aggressive dog?

It can be a bad idea to rehome your dog with a behavioral issue. Rehoming an aggressive dog may sound like an easy option, however, if you are struggling with your dog it is very likely the new owner will too. Re-homing is a very stressful event for most dogs, and this most likely will result in amplified levels of fear and aggression.

Obviously, you can consult a veterinarian or an animal behaviorist before considering to rehome an aggressive dog.

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