Pet dogs improve family functioning and reduce anxiety in children with autism spectrum disorder

Wright, Hannah and Hall, Sophie and Hames, Annette and Hardiman, Jessica and Mills, Richard and Mills, Daniel (2015) Pet dogs improve family functioning and reduce anxiety in children with autism spectrum disorder. Anthrozoös, 28 (4). pp. 611-624. ISSN 0892-7936

Full content URL: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/08927936.2015.1070003

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Abstract

Jessica Hardiman*†, Richard Mills‡
, PAWS Project
Team† and Daniel Mills*
*
University of Lincoln, School of Life Sciences, Joseph Banks
Laboratories, UK

Dogs for the Disables, Frances Hay Centre, Banbury, Oxfordshire, UK

Research Autism, Adam House, London, UK
ABSTRACT There is increasing evidence to suggest that dogs are
beneficial for children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) in therapy
sessions, and anecdotal reports suggest that dogs may have wider benefits,
in a family setting. This study investigated the effect of dog ownership
on family functioning and child anxiety. Using a validated scale of
family strengths and weaknesses (Brief Version of the Family Assessment
Measure-III [General Scale]), we compared parents of children with ASD
who had recently acquired a pet dog (n = 42, Intervention group) with a
similar group of parents not acquiring a dog (n = 28, Control group) at
matched time points. A sub-population (n =14 acquiring a dog, n = 26
controls) completed a parental-report measure of child anxiety (Spence
Children’s Anxiety Scale). The primary carer completed the scales via
telephone at Baseline (up to 17 weeks before acquiring a dog), Postintervention
(3–10 weeks after acquisition), and Follow-up (25–40 weeks
after acquisition). Over time, scores for family functioning showed significant
improvements (reduced family weaknesses, increased strengths) in
the dog-owning compared with the non-dog owning group. In comparison
with the non-dog owning group, anxiety scores in the dog-owning
group reduced by a greater percentage, most notably in the domains of
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (26% greater decrease), Panic Attack
and Agoraphobia (24%), Social Phobia (22%), and Separation Anxiety
(22%). The results illustrate the potential of pet dogs to improve whole
family functioning and child anxiety.

Keywords:autism spectrum disorder, anxiety, autism, children, family-functioning, pet dogs
Subjects:C Biological Sciences > C800 Psychology
D Veterinary Sciences, Agriculture and related subjects > D300 Animal Science
Divisions:College of Science > School of Life Sciences
ID Code:19194
Deposited On:18 Oct 2015 19:48

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