Animals in medical settings
The presence of dogs has been found to reduce distress in children during doctor’s visits116,117. Even brief interactions with a dog have been shown to decrease both physical and emotional perceptions of pain in children118 and the level of pain reduction is comparable to the use of oral acetaminophen, with and without codeine, in adults118.
Spending time with dogs has been shown to improve pain, fatigue, mood, and other measures of distress in individuals with fibromyalgia119 and other forms of chronic pain120. Patients recovering from hip or knee replacement surgery who spent 15 minutes with dogs prior to their physical therapy sessions reported less pain than those who did not interact with dogs121. Interactions with therapy dogs during chemotherapy reduced depression and improved arterial oxygen saturation122. Children recovering from the effects of anesthesia post-surgery benefited from interactions with therapy dogs on a number of levels, including perceptions of pain123. Of particular importance for healthcare organizations, the patients who interacted with the dogs also reported higher levels of satisfaction with their hospital stay.
Animals in therapeutic settings
Depression is a serious condition that affects millions of people. It is the leading cause of disability worldwide, and the World Health Organization estimates that more than 300 million people of all ages suffer from depression124. Using meta-analytic techniques, it has been demonstrated that participation in animal-assisted activities and animal-assisted therapy can produce significant improvements in depression125.
Children receiving treatment for ADHD showed significantly greater reductions in the severity of their symptoms during a canine-assisted intervention, than a control group of children who received similar treatment without a dog126. In a randomized control trial, adolescents admitted to a psychiatric hospital for acute mental disorders were found to have improved global functioning and increased school attendance following animal assisted activities127. Equine assisted therapy was found to be helpful in reducing violent attacks among long term hospitalized psychiatric patients128.
Animals in the classroom
A systematic review examining the association of companion animal ownership and developmental outcomes found evidence for positive associations between pet ownership and educational and cognitive outcomes, as well as social competence and social play (which lead to academic success)129.
Including therapy dogs in learning tasks with children has been linked to a wide variety of educational benefits, including improved performance of some cognitive130 and motor-skills tasks131 and increased adherence to instructions132. Researchers believe that the presence of a dog helps children to focus their attention on the task at hand, and provides children with the motivation to complete certain tasks130,133,134.
When a dog is present in the classroom, behavioral problems decrease, positive behaviors increase, communication improves, and increased attention is directed toward the teacher135.
A review of the literature on Reading to Dogs Programs recently concluded that reading to dogs has a number of beneficial effects that contribute not only to a positive learning environment, but also lead to improved reading performance136. An example of a particularly strong study discussed in that review involved 102 children aged 7-13 years who were identified as poor readers. The children were randomly assigned to read to a dog, or an adult, or a teddy bear or a no-reading control condition. After the 10-week intervention, a standardized measure of reading comprehension showed that students in the dog condition scored higher compared to baseline that students in the other conditions. This result is important because it uses a high-quality research methodology and a standardize measure of reading comprehension.
Another systematic review of all the research on animal related interventions in educational settings provides a compelling compilation of 25 studies suggesting potential benefits related to involving animals in school settings137. In fact, there is now a book detailing the many and varied ways that animals in classroom may help students learn138.
Animals in the workplace
Employees who bring their dog to work show decline in stress over the course of the day, while stress increases in those who leave their dogs at home. By the end of the day, those with dogs at home have significantly higher stress than those with dogs at work139.
When a workplace permits employees to bring their dogs to work, dog owning employees (whether they bring their dogs to work or not) score significantly higher on perceptions of job satisfaction, including subscales of communication, benefits, rewards, promotion, operating procedures, and pay139. Companion dogs have been found to increase prosocial behaviors in four person workgroups140.
In a study of 749 primarily female employees, the 22% who “often” brought their dog to work (in contrast to those who “sometimes” or “never” brought their dogs or work) reported above average dedication, absorption and total engagement. This group also experienced lower turnover intention, better work-based friendships, and general work-related quality of life. The authors noted that dog size, breed and training may be important considerations in the selection of an ideal work dog141.