Introducing an autistic child to the neighbor's dog

We recently moved into a new house. The next door neighbor has two dogs. One of them apparently loves every homo sapiens it comes across. The other one has had bad experiences in dealing with children from this house (the previous tenants). My daughter, being autistic (and, more importantly, six years old), loves animals. I want to know how I would go about introducing my daughter to this animal so that when she inevitably escapes my attention, this dog doesn’t find her a threat. The neighbor is willing to have a meeting, but I personally know nothing about introducing kids to dogs, and with the autism, I’m not sure if there is anything else to be concerned about.

Any assistance would be greatly appreciated.


Hi Marc, I’m a zoo educator and have a bit of experience with kids with ASDs and animals. Humane educators (at shelters, etc.) often teach kids the “Be A Tree” technique when approached by dogs. This website has a good, kid-friendly description. The idea for the child to act non-threatening and neutral, so as not to aggravate or excite the dog.

How does your daughter do with following rules/directions? Maybe you can write her a social story, or find one online, showing her that she shouldn’t go near the dogs without an adult holding her hand, and how to behave when she does.

Good luck, I’m glad you’re being proactive to help your daughter, the dogs, and their owners.

Good luck. My daughter on the spectrum is 7 and I have to watch her like a hawk. She can be good with dogs, but can pull hair/tails inappropriately, grab a leg and yank, etc.

You have to teach the appropriate behavior. How to pet, what hurts, be nice, etc. I don’t know how your child learns and if she’s safe 1:1 with a dog. My daughter isn’t safe, so she never gets an opportunity to be 1:1 with a dog.

Dogs are bribable!*

Have her offer a dog treat to the dog, her standing still while the dog approaches her. With the owner nearby, to give the dog reassurance. Then go to playing with toys, tossing the dog’s ball for it to return, etc.

Once the dog identifies her as a friend, dogs will put up with a surprising amount of hair-pulling, yanking, crawling on top of them, and so forth from kids. Way more than they would from an adult.

  • Unlike cats, who will deign to accept your bribe, but not let it modify their attitude toward you in the least.