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STUDY: Therapy dogs result in "clear reduction in stress levels in children"

July 26, 2022, Theravive: Can Dogs Reduce Stress Levels In School Children? https://www.theravive.com/today/post/can-dogs-reduce-stress-levels-in-school-children-0004848.aspx
A new study published in PLOS ONE looked at whether dogs can reduce stress levels in school children.

“Our research is the first to demonstrate the mediating effects of dog-assisted interventions on stress levels in school children over the school term and in both, children with and without special educational needs,” study author Kerstin Meints told us. “Our study compared cortisol levels in UK primary school children who participated in dog-assisted intervention sessions, relaxation sessions, or no intervention.”

The researchers measured stress levels (via stress hormone cortisol in the saliva) in 105, eight to nine-year-old children in mainstream schools as well as in 44 children in special education needs schools. The children were randomly stratified into three groups: a dog group, relaxation group or control group.

In the dog group, participants interacted for 20 minutes with a trained dog and handler; the relaxation meditation group involved a 20-minute relaxation session, twice a week for four weeks. The control group attended school as normal….

Taking the existing theories into account, the researchers predicted that dog-assisted interventions would lead to lowest cortisol levels in children when comparing the dog intervention group to a relaxation intervention and a no treatment control group. They also predicted that relaxation interventions would hold an intermediate position between the no treatment group and the dog intervention….

Prolonged or excessive stress can negatively affect learning, educational attainment, behaviour and health. To alleviate negative effects of stress in school children, stressors should be reduced, and support and effective interventions should be provided. Dog-assisted interventions are one example of interventions that may lead to lower stress.

“We have currently very little evidence which interventions work best to alleviate stress in school children,” Meints told us, “so this is why we tested children in dog-assisted and relaxation interventions and a no treatment control group in a randomized controlled trial.”

The researchers found that stress levels rise significantly in children over the school term (in our no treatment control group) and that dog-assisted interventions work well with children in mainstream schools to keep stress levels lower over the school term if carried out individually or groups.

“We also found a clear reduction in stress levels in children with special educational needs over the school term if dog interventions are with small groups of children,” Meints told us. “And that relaxation interventions show some protective effects in the mainstream school cohort only.”…

Meintz believes that as dog interventions contributed to lower stress over the school term, both – reduction of stressors and interventions - could go hand in hand to make school a less stressful space for children and adolescents….