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Canine-Assisted Therapy: A Promising Approach for Children with ADHD


Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a common neurodevelopmental disorder that affects millions of children worldwide. Traditional treatment options for ADHD include medication and cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), but recent studies have shown that a novel therapeutic strategy, canine-assisted intervention (CAI), may also be effective in treating children with ADHD.

The Positive Impact of Pet Ownership on Cognitive Function have been known to have a positive impact on human health and well-being, but the specific effects on cognitive function have not been extensively studied. A recent study conducted by the Alabama Brain Study on Risk for Dementia found that pet ownership, particularly dog ownership, can have a significant impact on cognitive performance and brain health. The study recruited 95 participants aged 20-74, with 56 being pet-owners and 39 being non-pet-owners. The results showed that pet ownership was related to higher levels of cognition and larger brain structures, with the largest effects seen in dog owners.

The study also found that owning a pet can reduce one’s brain age by up to 15 years. This is particularly noteworthy as we age, as cognitive decline is a common concern among older adults. Additionally, the study found that older adults who owned more than one pet had even greater benefits to their brain health than those who owned just one.

Canine-Assisted Intervention for Children with ADHD Another study also supports the benefits of animal interaction and presence on cognitive function, specifically in children. The study used neuropsychological concentration tasks to test the effect of the presence of dogs and contact with dogs on children’s performance. The study found that the learning effect in a memory test and in a neuropsychological attention test was significantly enhanced when children were in the presence of, or interacted with a dog. The study also found that interacting with a robotic dog did not have the same effect as interacting with a real dog.

Project Positive Assertive Cooperative Kids (P.A.C.K.) was designed to study a 12-week cognitive-behavioral intervention delivered with or without CAI. Children were randomly assigned to group therapy with or without CAI. The results showed that across both treatment groups, parents reported improvements in children's social skills, prosocial behaviors, and problematic behaviors. In both groups, the severity of ADHD symptoms declined during the course of treatment; however, children who received the CAI model exhibited greater reductions in the severity of ADHD symptoms than did children who received cognitive-behavioral therapy without CAI.

Conclusion These studies suggest that CAI may be a promising approach for treating children with ADHD. Further research is needed to fully understand the mechanisms behind these effects, but the findings provide a compelling argument for the inclusion of pet therapy in cognitive and emotional health programs for children with ADHD. Additionally, it is important to note that while pet ownership and in particular, dog ownership can have a positive impact on cognitive performance and brain health across the lifespan. Additionally, interacting with a dog, or simply being in their presence, can also enhance attention and concentration in children. These findings highlight the importance of considering the role of pets in maintaining cognitive function and overall well-being.

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