This project will provide a multidisciplinary One Health approach to a physical activity intervention for adolescents and their family dog. Relatively limited research has focused on physical activity interventions targeted at adolescents. There remains a critical need to develop strategies that will encourage an active lifestyle, physical and emotional wellbeing within this population. Animal assisted therapy, and even dog ownership, is credited with improving morale, reducing depressive symptoms and promoting health-related physical activity among other benefits. However, primary ownership and opportunities for improving the dog-human relationship are often skewed towards adults (e.g. commercial dog training courses that require primary participants be over 18) which may reduce opportunities for children to benefit. Our novel intervention emphasizes an active partnership between the family dog and adolescent, allowing both to develop critical skills through a unique dog training camp aimed at improving the child-dog bond, mutual physical activity as well as feelings of responsibility, quality of life and social wellbeing for adolescents, a group at high risk for physical inactivity, anxiety and depression. Recent pilot work by the research team has revealed physical and social-emotional improvements in children with developmental disabilities, and improved child-dog bonds, following an animal assisted intervention. Here we propose an innovative approach to studying the health effects of dogs on humans, with an emphasis on child health and development.
1) To evaluate a novel dog training camp intervention, employing Do As I Do “DAID” dog training, to promote physical activity in adolescents.
2) To evaluate the impact of a DAID dog-training program on the child-dog relationship, adolescent’s quality of life, feelings of social wellbeing and sense of responsibility for their pet.
Participation in a DAID dog-training program will result in significantly improved physical activity levels compared to baseline and control groups (dog walking and waitlist control).
Participation in the DAID program will result in higher quality of life ratings, improved behavioral indicators of the child-dog bond and greater feelings of attachment to, and independent responsibility for, the family dog when compared to baseline, dog walking and waitlist control.
Researchers will employ a randomized control trial to conduct within- and between-group evaluations to assess the DAID intervention, and its relative value compared with a traditional dog walking intervention and waitlist control (true control). Researchers will use a combination of validated physical (physical activity accelerometers), self-report (Quality of Life, Dog Care Responsibility Inventory, and Pet Relationship & Friendship Scales) and behavioral measures(Sociability, Attachment and Synchronous Activity Tests) to evaluate program outcomes.
Researchers predict that DAID participants will show improved physical activity behaviors, as well as increased feelings of responsibility, quality of life and social wellbeing.
This 2021 publication from Principal Investigator Megan MacDonald includes partial data from the HABRI-funded study Joint Physical and Social Well-being for Adolescents and their Family Dog. According to Dr. MacDonald, “The work presented in this study helps us better understand the initial relationship of children and their family dogs and [our HABRI-funded study] will help us better understand the role an animal-assisted intervention with the family dog has on the physical activity, quality of life and social wellbeing of children.”