Reducing ADHD Symptoms Through Therapy Dogs

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Every dog lover knows the famous quote, “A dog is a man’s best friend.” It is used to describe the millennia-long history of dogs’ close relationships, loyalty, friendship, and companionship with humans. The relationship between dogs and humans started long before inventing agriculture, language, or permanent homes, which can be traced back to 30 000 years ago. 

They earned their well-deserved title for a variety of reasons. Apart from being great companions and loving their owners unconditionally, dogs do many great things for humans. From rescuing their owners to putting themselves in danger to help out, humans have trained dogs to do various jobs, so their range of skills is quite extraordinary.

In addition to the extraordinary abilities of dogs, the study published by the American Psychological Association in the Society of Counseling Psychology’s Human-Animal Interaction Bulletin (HAIB) showed that therapy dogs might be able to help youngsters with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) by lessening their symptoms.

Canine-Assisted Interventions for Children with ADHD

Millions of children suffer from Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), which frequently lasts into adulthood. Chronic issues, including trouble maintaining focus, hyperactivity, and impulsive conduct, are all part of ADHD.

Along with poor academic performance, problematic relationships, and low self-esteem, children with ADHD may also have these issues. Sometimes, symptoms get better as they mature. Some individuals, however, never fully outgrow their ADHD symptoms. On the brighter side, kids can pick up successful coping mechanisms. Although medication won’t make ADHD disappear, it can significantly reduce symptoms. Medication and behavioral therapies are frequently used in treatment.

The animal-assisted intervention has been recommended in several studies as a potential method for boosting motivation in therapeutic settings to enhance or better “tailoring” established behavioral therapies for ADHD-affected youngsters.

The researchers of the Human-Animal Interaction Bulletin study explored the effectiveness and safety of canine-assisted treatments (CAI) for children with ADHD. Children with ADHD who had never taken medication for the disorder and were ages 7 to 9 were included in the study. Participants in the trial were assigned randomly to either the evidence-based, “best practice” psychosocial psychotherapy or the same intervention with the help of trained therapy dogs.

The researchers’ data revealed a reduction in inattention and an improvement in social skills were observed in children with ADHD who received the canine-assisted intervention (CAI). The researchers also discovered that both CAI and non-CAI interventions could be beneficial for reducing overall ADHD symptom severity after 12 weeks. However, the group assisted by therapy dogs performed significantly better with enhanced attention and social skills at only eight weeks and had fewer behavioral problems. Conversely, there were no discernible group differences in impulsivity and hyperactivity.

Further supporting the study’s significance is that parents of children treated with CAI reported considerably fewer behavioral problems over time than those treated without therapy dogs.

In sum, the results of this study clearly indicate that psychosocial intervention highlighting behavioral parent training and social skills training for children with ADHD effectively improves outcomes compared to no treatment. Additionally, when therapy dogs assist these ‘best-practice’ psychosocial interventions, treatment benefits are moderately enhanced in specific domains. Hence, the study suggests a feasible option when seeking alternatives to medication treatments for ADHD, particularly when it comes to impaired attention. 

The researchers also noted some limitations which made it difficult to determine if the differential effects in the CAI occur in groups of children solely with ADHD compared to groups of children with comorbid ADHD/ODD.

Since reports of bullying, aggression, and arguing frequently affect children with ADHD, the reduced behavioral problems for the CAI group are of particular interest. It may be that although the benefit of traditional intervention is improved through the assistance of dogs, it may have different implications for children with problem behaviors. Further research with stratified group assignments is needed to comprehend better how CAI may help children with and without commonly cooccurring behavioral disorders. 

Journal Reference

Schuck, S. E. B., Emmerson, N. A., Abdullah, M. M., Fine, A. H., Stehli, A., & Lakes, K. D. (2018). A Randomized Controlled Trial of Traditional Psychosocial and Canine-Assisted Interventions for Children with ADHD. Human-Animal Interaction Bulletin, 6(1), 64–80. 

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