Researchers from the University of Lincoln, UK, say having a pet dog in the home significantly reduces stress in families with an autistic child. This sort of news probably comes as little surprise to savvy vets, who recognize the power of the pooch to bring peace and calm to troubled children.
Published in the American Journal of Veterinary Behavior, the research concludes that having a dog in the home may significantly improve functioning in families struggling to accommodate the demands of Autism Spectrum Disorder. To put it another way; researchers discovered fewer incidences of dysfunctional interactions between parents and children with ASD when there was a pet dog in the home.
From Trained Assistant to Family Stress Buster
Lead researcher, Daniel Mills, Professor of Veterinary Behavioural Medicine in the School of Life Sciences at the University of Lincoln, said: “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.”
Previous research focused on dogs’ positive influence as assistance animals on the wellbeing of children with ASD. But this research delved into a family pet’s effects on the family at large. Simple family pets, which were not necessarily trained assistance dogs, were able to have a positive influence on the family dynamic. It seems that dogs instinctively help improve the functioning of the whole family unit, no special training required.
Long-term Benefits of Dog Ownership
“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,” Mills said. The benefits of dog ownership began early, and continued to accrue for years afterward. Family stress levels declined steadily over a number of years, investigators discovered, long after the initial excitement of welcoming a new pet into the home had ceased to be a factor.
The findings suggest that the parents of a child or children with ASD should seriously consider adding a dog to the family mix, if only to help reduce discord in the home. Steven Feldman is Executive Director of the US-based Human Animal Bond Research Initiative (HABRI) Foundation. “Parents of children with autism can experience increased anxiety and stress,” Feldman said, “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.”
There’s a reason dogs have been called man’s best friend. Is there anything dogs can’t do? Now, if only someone would train them to fold the laundry…
Reference: University of Lincoln. "Dogs de-stress families with autistic children, new research shows." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 20 July 2016.
Legal disclaimer: The image associated with this article is a stock image used for illustrative purposes to highlight our belief in the general power of the human animal bond on all people regardless of age, race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, physical or mental ability. It is not a photo of or intended to represent the actual relationship between a child with ASD and a pet.