A case study looked at the interaction between a 10-year-old boy with cerebral palsy and his family’s dog. Investigators observe that it helped the child increase his physical activity, motor skills, and quality of life.

“These initial findings indicate that we can improve the quality of life for children with disabilities, and we can get them to be more active,” says Megan MacDonald, an assistant professor in OSU’s College of Public Health and Human Sciences and corresponding author on the study, published in the journal Animals.

“And in this case, both are happening simultaneously, which is fantastic,” she adds, in a media release from Oregon State University.

In the study, researchers designed an 8-week-long adapted physical activity, animal-assisted intervention where the family dog would serve as a partner with the child in physical activities designed to help improve overall physical activity, motor skills, and quality of life.

Prior to the activity’s start, the researchers assessed the child’s daily physical activity, motor skills, and quality of life. They also assessed the dog’s fitness for participation and its interaction with the child.

The intervention included a supervised physical activity program once a week for 60 minutes and participation in activities such as brushing the dog with each hand, playing fetch and alternating hands, balancing on a wobble board, and marching on a balancing disc.

“The dog would also balance on the wobble board, so it became a challenge for the child—if the dog can do it, I can, too,” MacDonald states, in the release. “It was so cool to see the relationship between the child and the dog evolve over time. They develop a partnership and the activities become more fun and challenging for the child. It becomes, in part, about the dog and the responsibility of taking care of it.”

The dog and the child also had “homework,” which included brushing the dog, playing fetch and going on daily walks. The child wore an accelerometer to measure physical activity levels at home.

At the end of the 8 weeks, the researchers re-assessed the child and his dog. They found that the child’s quality of life had increased significantly in several areas, including emotional, societal, and physical health. The child’s sedentary behavior decreased, and the time spent on moderate to vigorous activity increased, per the release.

They also note that the relationship between the child and his dog improved over the course of the therapy.

“The findings so far are very encouraging,” MacDonald shares. “There’s a chance down the road we could be encouraging families to adopt a dog for the public health benefits. How cool would that be?”

[Source(s): Oregon State University, Science Daily]