According to a recent study conducted at Oregon State University, a family dog can help children with disabilities incorporate more physical activity into their lives. In addition to ground-breaking findings related to the health of children with disabilities, this study is one of the first to evaluate how a dog’s behavior and wellbeing are affected by their participation in animal-assisted therapy.
Several families were recruited, including a 10-year-old boy with cerebral palsy and his dog. The initial eight-week intervention involved a supervised physical activity program once a week. For 60 minutes, the child was invited to engage in activities such as brushing the dog and playing fetch. Eventually, more challenging tasks taught the child a sense of responsibility that comes from caring for an animal companion.
By the end of the intervention, the child’s quality of life had increased significantly in several areas, including emotional, social and physical health. The dog’s behavior and performance on cognitive and physical tasks also improved. MacDonald adds that these findings could eventually encourage families to adopt a dog not only to rescue the animal, but for the multifaceted benefits it offers their children.