Dogs can reduce the stress levels of autistic children

dog with baby cartoon

In order to assess whether the presence of specially trained dogs would affect he stress levels of autistic children, researchers at the Université de Montreal measured the amount of cortisol present in the saliva of 42 autistic children prior to and during the introduction of a specially trained dog to the family, and after the dog was removed.

Cortisol is a hormone that is produced by the body in response to stress. It peaks half-hour after waking up (the CAR or cortisol awakening response) and decreases throughout the day and it is detectable in the saliva, which makes sampling its levels easy. They found that the presence of the dog had a clear impact on the childrens’ stress level.

Throughout the experiment, parents were also asked to complete a questionnaire about the behaviour of their children before, during and after the introduction of the dog. On average, parents counted 33 problematic behaviours prior to living with the dog, and only 25 while living with the animal.


Robert Viau, Geneviève Arsenault-Lapierre, Stéphanie Fecteau, Noël Champagne, Claire-Dominique Walker, Sonia Lupien. Effect of service dogs on salivary cortisol secretion in autistic children. Psychoneuroendocrinology, 2010; 35 (8): 1187


Click here for more research reports on possible treatments for autism

First Published in November 2010

Top of page