As per a new study published in the open-access journal PLOS ONE, Dog-assisted interventions can lead to significantly lower stress in children both with and without special needs.

The researchers tracked levels of the stress hormone cortisol in the saliva of 105 eight- to nine-year-old children in four mainstream schools as well as 44 similarly aged children from seven special education needs schools.

The children were randomly stratified into three groups:

• A dog group

• Relaxation group

• Control group.

In the dog group, participants interacted for 20 minutes with a trained dog and handler; the meditation group involved a 20-minute relaxation session. Sessions were carried out twice a week for four weeks.

It was found that dog interventions lead to significantly lower cortisol levels in children in both mainstream and special needs schools. In mainstream schools, children in the control and relaxation groups had increase in mean salivary cortisol over the course of the school term.. In addition, their cortisol levels were, on average, lower immediately after each dog session. For children with special educational needs, similar patterns were seen, with decreases in cortisol after dog group interventions. The authors concluded that dog interventions can successfully attenuate stress levels in school children.

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