Kids Love Therapy Dogs and Learn Social Skills Too: Study

It turns out there is a lot to be gained from matching therapy dogs with children.  The results of a new study demonstrated that children not only reap the benefits of working with therapy dogs, they enjoy it too.

Study Overview

The study explored how children reacted while participating in a social skill-training program with therapy dogs. The research study included 22 children from the Okanagan Boys and Girls Club who took part in a series of sessions to help them build their social skills. Over six weeks, the children were accompanied by therapy dogs from UBC Okanagan’s Building Academic Retention through K9s (BARK) program as they completed lessons.

Each week the children were taught a new skill, such as introducing themselves or giving directions to others. The children would first practice with their assigned therapy dog before running through the exercise with the rest of the group. In the final phase, the children — accompanied by their new furry friend and volunteer handler — would practice their new skills with university students located in the building.

Study Findings

Eighty-seven per cent of the team rated the children’s engagement level as very or extremely engaged during the sessions.

“Findings from our observations suggested that canine-assisted social and emotional learning initiatives can provide unique advantages.  Our team saw that by interacting with the therapy dogs, the children’s moods improved and their engagement in their lessons increased.”

-Nicole Harris, School of Education

At the end of the six weeks, researchers interviewed eight children, aged 5 to 11 years old, who regularly attended the sessions. Each child indicated the social skill-training program was an enjoyable and positive experience and the dogs were a meaningful and essential part of the program.

Half of the children mentioned ways that they felt the dogs helped with their emotional well-being, with one participant crediting a dog with helping him “become more responsible and control his silliness.”

 “The dogs helped create a non-threatening climate while the children were learning these new skills. We saw the children practice and hone their social skills with and alongside the dogs.”

-Dr. John-Tyler Binfet, associate professor in the School of Education and director of BARK

Journal Reference:  Nicole M. Harris, John-Tyler Binfet. Exploring Children’s Perceptions of an After-School Canine-Assisted Social and Emotional Learning Program: A Case Study. Journal of Research in Childhood Education, 2020; 1 DOI: 10.1080/02568543.2020.1846643