Therapy Dogs May Help Kids With ADHD, Study Suggests

By Tara Drinks on Aug 30, 2018

Does your child with attention issues love dogs? There may be a new reason to give your child more time to bond with Fido.

A small study from the University of California’s Irvine School of Medicine suggests that therapy dogs might improve attention in kids with ADHD.

Therapy dogs are dogs that visit hospitals, nursing homes, schools and other settings to offer comfort and affection. All therapy dogs have to go through a training class and pass a test.

In the study, 88 grade-schoolers with ADHD went to a social skills program for 12 weeks. (Their parents got behavioral parent training at the same time.)

Half of the kids attended the social skills program alone. The other half had the bonus of a therapy dog at their side. (This is known as canine-assisted intervention or CAI.)

The group of kids who had a dog showed more improvement in attention and social skills than the other group. The benefits didn’t extend to other ADHD symptoms like hyperactivity and impulsivity.

While the results suggest that therapy dogs might be helpful to some kids, it’s important to know that the research didn’t look at a few key things.

“For starters, the study did not include children who take medication for their symptoms,” says Understood expert Stephanie Sarkis. “It also did not include children who do not have ADHD. These are two major populations that are not accounted for in the study’s research.”

Sarkis raised another question. “Studies overall show that dogs reduce stress. I wonder if in this case, the dogs were helping to reduce stress rather than helping with ADHD.”

Regardless, Sarkis thinks the study is encouraging. “The benefits seem to outweigh the risks,” she says. “And the social skills training model program worked well with or without the dogs. That’s major.”


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    About the author

    About the author

    Tara Drinks is an associate editor at Understood.