Oregon State University Study Shows Increase in Physical Activity for Children with Developmental Disabilities Through Dog Interaction

by Lisa

A recent study conducted by researchers at Oregon State University (OSU) revealed that regular engagement with family dogs, combined with teaching them tricks and commands, led to a significant increase in daily physical activity among children with developmental disabilities. The findings of the study, published in the journal Human-Animal Interactions, shed light on the potential benefits of human-animal interactions in promoting physical activity in children.

Co-author Megan MacDonald, head of OSU’s School of Exercise, Sport, and Health Sciences, emphasized the broader definition of physical activity, stating, “We often talk about physical activity as just fitness or exercise, but really, it’s about moving and being active on a daily basis.” MacDonald highlighted the importance of engaging with dogs in playful activities as a means of increasing physical activity levels.


The study addressed the concerning trend of insufficient physical activity among American children, particularly those with developmental disabilities. MacDonald noted that access to physical activity remains a significant barrier for many children, both at home and within their communities.


To conduct the study, MacDonald collaborated with Monique Udell from OSU’s College of Agricultural Sciences, whose expertise includes human-animal interactions. The research focused on the “Do As I Do” training intervention, wherein children taught their dogs various commands, including mimicking their owners’ actions. The study involved 45 child-dog pairs, with each child identified as having a developmental disability.


Participants in the experimental group underwent 10 hour-long sessions with a dog trainer, while those in the control groups engaged in different activities. Accelerometers were used to measure the children’s physical activity levels before and after the program.


Results showed that children in the experimental group significantly increased their moderate to vigorous physical activity by 17 minutes per day, while also reducing sedentary time by nearly an hour per day. MacDonald expressed excitement over the findings, noting the challenge of achieving significant differences in physical activity behavior.

In addition to the physical benefits, the program also helped children develop awareness of nonverbal cues and build responsibility through interaction with their family dogs. MacDonald emphasized the multifaceted advantages of the program, which extends beyond physical activity.

The study underscores the potential of human-animal interactions in promoting physical activity and enhancing overall well-being among children with developmental disabilities. MacDonald and her team are currently exploring similar interventions involving pet cats and collaborating with dog trainers to further expand their research efforts.


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