ADHD is a condition that has received a lot of focus from mental health professionals in recent decades as our understanding of it as well as how it can best be treated have enhanced. Most recently, researchers from the University of California Irvine observed children between 7 and 9-years old with ADHD who had never been given medicine for their condition. Therapy dog advocates will likely be happy with the results.
Sabrina E. B. Schuck, Ph.D., MA, executive director of the UCI Child Development Center and assistant professor in residence in the Department of Pediatrics at UCI School of Medicine led a randomized study of the effectiveness of therapy dogs in assisting children with ADHD in evidenced-based, "best practice" psychosocial interventions. The same intervention was conducted without the aid of therapy dogs and the researchers found that canine assisted intervention resulted in a reduction in the inattention of patients as well as an improvement in certain social skills. While interventions were found to be effective over a 12-week period with or without the aid of certified therapy dogs, the groups that were assisted by therapy dogs showed significantly improved attention and fewer behavioral problems in just 8 weeks. Hyperactivity and impulsivity, however, were not found to be impacted.
The results bode well for families wishing to avoid giving their children medications to treat ADHD. It was the first study of its kind to observe canine assisted intervention for children with the condition.
"Our finding that dogs can hasten the treatment response is very meaningful," said Schuck. "In addition, the fact that parents of the children who were in the CAI group reported significantly fewer problem behaviors over time than those treated without therapy dogs is further evidence of the importance of this research.”
Of course, animal-assisted intervention is nothing new, having been used for decades to help people with any number of conditions. But interestingly enough, it’s only recently that empirical evidence has begun to support benefits including reduced stress, improved cognitive function, reduced problem behaviors, and improved attention.
"The take away from this is that families now have a viable option when seeking alternative or adjunct therapies to medication treatments for ADHD, especially when it comes to impaired attention," said Schuck. "Inattention is perhaps the most salient problem experienced across the lifespan for individuals with this disorder."