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Did you grow up with a dog in your home? A new study from the journal PLOS One shows that spending time with dogs can help reduce stress levels in children.
It was discovered that twice-weekly sessions with a dog and its handler dramatically reduced children’s cortisol levels—the body’s stress hormone—as assessed by saliva samples. It appeared that the intervention was more successful than guided relaxation sessions.
Kerstin Meints, a professor in developmental psychology at the University of Lincoln in England, and one of the study’s researchers said, “Our study shows, for the first time, that dog-assisted interventions can indeed lead to lower stress in children, with and without special educational needs, over a typical school term.”
The study looked at children’s stress levels before and after spending 20 minutes with a trained dog and professional handler in the United Kingdom. For four weeks, the classes were held twice a week. This was compared to a control group of children who did not interact with dogs and a group of children who practiced meditation instead.
The current study’s findings are consistent with previous research. According to a 2018 research review, dogs provide stress reduction and social support by improving social connection, alleviating loneliness and depression, and perhaps increasing exercise activity.
Although, there is a significant distinction between canine therapy and the types of unexpected encounters children and dogs have when simply hanging out together at home.
“There is a difference between a trained animal and a household pet,” said Dr. Arun Handa, an attending psychiatrist with the department of child and adolescent psychiatry at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. “That being said, it’s not unreasonable that household pets can provide some kind of comfort and support.”
Dr. Sandra Bonat, a pediatric physician advisor at VIP StarNetwork, told Healthline that if the child has never been around a dog before, it is critical to give the child some exposure before introducing a dog into the household.
The researchers also noted that dog treatments could successfully lower stress levels in kids, but they also stated that further study is needed to discover the best amount of time spent with dogs to reduce stress.