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HABRI Study Finds Dogs De-Stress Families with Autistic Children

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Therapy animals can be life changing to those who require them, including children on the Autism Spectrum. Dogs can help foster emotional bonding and provide comfort and support, as well as helping with daily tasks. However, a recent study has shown that the benefits of a therapy animal may spread to the entirety of the family when they are provided for children.The Study was conducted by the HABRI research initiative foundation and published recently in the Journal of Veterinary Behaviour. The findings were positive and could mean a big win for supporters of animals therapies. Though Autism is a type of neuroatypicality, it is a spectrum of behaviours that may show varying symptomologies and require various levels of care. Service animals are only one form of therapy available to those if they require it. 

“While there is growing evidence that animal-assisted therapy can aid in the treatment of children with autism spectrum disorders, this study is one of the first to examine how pet dog ownership can also improve the lives of those more widely affected by autism,” said the principal investigator on the study, Professor Daniel Mills. “We found a significant, positive relationship between parenting stress of the child’s main caregiver and their attachment to the family dog. This highlights the importance of the bond between the carer and their dog in the benefits they gain.”

Related: Educated Canines Assisting with Disabilities

Families can experience amazing benefits from incorporating a therapy animal into their home, including positive impact on mental health. Living with loved ones who are hard to communicate with or require special routines may be hard on a family over time. “Parents of children with autism can experience increased anxiety and stress, and now we have strong scientific evidence to show that pets can have positive effects on these quality-of-life issues. Families with an autistic child should consider pet ownership as a way to improve family harmony,” executive Director of the study Steven Feldman said. Even dysfunction between parents and their children was lowered with the presence of a dog in the home.

The study followed families long term to see if dogs would have a lasting positive effect on their families. The families were checked initially for stress levels and functionality and then 2.5 years later after the initial “puppy honeymoon” was over. Stress levels maintained a continuous decline even years after the study began.

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The proof is in the numbers, as “stress associated with parenting a child with autism continued to decrease among dog owners over time, but we did not see the same reductions in families without a dog,” stated Prof. Mills. “This long-term follow-up study highlights the potential benefits of pet ownership in bringing long-term improvements to the lives of families living with a child with autism.”

This is a big discovery for the service/therapy dog community as more research seems to confirm the benefit of the animals. Hopefully, as therapy dogs continue to shine, more will become available for families who require their services.


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