20 May 2017

RESEARCH - A Family Dog Boosts Physical Activity of Disabled Kids

It’s well known that animal companions, service and therapy dogs can positively impact people’s health and well-being.

A recent case study has also shown that a family dog can help individuals with cerebral palsy by boosting their physical activity.

Researchers from Oregon State University studied a ten-year-old boy and his dog after initial assessments of the child’s daily physical activity, motor skills and quality of life.

A veterinarian examined the dog’s fitness for participation, and the interaction between the dog, a year-old pomeranian, and the child was also assessed.

Researchers designed an adapted physical activity, animal-assisted intervention where the family dog would serve as a partner with the child in physical activities.

The eight week program included a supervised physical activity program once a week for 60 minutes and participation in activities such as brushing the dog with each hand; playing fetch and alternating hands; balancing on a wobble board; and marching on a balancing disc.

The child wore a device to measure activity levels and had homework between the supervised weekly programs.

At the conclusion of the intervention, researchers re-assessed and found the child’s quality of life had increased significantly in several areas, including emotional, social and physical health, as assessed by the child as well as the parent.

In addition, the child’s sedentary behavior decreased and time spent on moderate to vigorous activity increased dramatically.

“These initial findings indicate that we can improve the quality of life for children with disabilities, and we can get them to be more active,” Megan MacDonald, an assistant professor in OSU’s College of Public Health and Human Sciences and corresponding author on the study, said in a release.

The researchers also found that the relationship between the dog and the child improved over the course of the therapy as they worked together on various tasks.

The dog’s prosocial, or positive, behaviour toward the child is a sign of wellbeing for both members of the team.

Based on the initial results, researchers hope to pursue additional studies involving children with disabilities and their family dogs, if funding can be secured.

Oregon families interested in learning more about future research projects related to this work can contact Megan MacDonald to be included on an interest list.

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