New study offers insights into a dog’s life in families with children


Millions of families know how rewarding and enjoyable dog ownership can be – but now a new study has for the first time examined the quality of life for a pet dog owned by a family with children.
There is now extensive scientific research showing the many benefits that pet dogs bring to families, including improved family functioning and wellbeing for those with children with neuro-developmental disorders such as Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and ADHD. For all children, dogs can provide valuable companionship, encourage exercise and family activities, and teach them about responsibilities.Until now, little attention has been paid to how living with children affects quality of life for pet dogs (those not trained as assistance dogs). Funded by Dogs Trust – the UK’s largest dog welfare charity – a team of animal behaviour and welfare specialists from the University of Lincoln’s School of Life Sciences are examining this question.

Published in the scientific journal PLOS ONE, their latest research involved interviewing parents who own a dog – half with typically developing children and half with children with Autism or ADHD, with all children aged between four and 10 years old.

The research revealed that the child-dog relationship has a number of beneficial aspects for the dog, including a sense of routine, more time for fun and play, and companionship.
Dr Sophie Hall, a Research Fellow specialising in human-animal interactions at the University of Lincoln’s School of Life Sciences, said: “Our study involved 36 dog-owning families, who all highlighted some key benefits that their pet dogs receive from living with young children.”For example children provide close companionship for pets as well as imposing a sense of predictable and consistent routine in the home, in terms of feed and walk times, which we know is extremely important for a dog’s wellbeing. Of course, children also play regularly with their pet dogs and activities such as throwing a ball and doing assault courses represent really valuable opportunities for exercise and positive mental stimulation.

“The study also highlighted some potentially negative impacts on the pet, which it is important for parents to be aware of when bringing a dog into a home with children.”

The negative impact could be brought on by children having tantrums, with parents observing their dogs running away, shaking or hiding on some of these occasions. Parents also observed a change in their dog’s behaviour if it became ‘over stimulated’ – such as barking, becoming agitated, or seeking a place to escape – when their children were very noisy.

Other events that could cause potential distress for dogs in homes with children could include rough play or accidents such as collisions with toys or pulling the dog’s tail.

The study suggests that in a home with small children, it is important for dogs to have a ‘safe haven’ to escape to if needed, and for parents to understand both the obvious and more subtle signs of distress in their pets and to teach their family about these signs. For example, pet dogs often have wide eyes or lick their lips when they are mildly stressed.

Dr Hall added: “The positive and negative aspects of the child-dog relationship were similar in families with typically developing children and in those with children with a neuro-developmental disorder.

“As such, providing they are aware of key risk events and how to cope with these, and ensuring adequate supervision, parents should not necessarily be dissuaded from acquiring a pet dog because of their child’s developmental issues. As we know, pet dogs can really enrich family life and support child development and wellbeing.”

The results of this initial study are now being developed further by the team at the University of Lincoln with support from Dogs Trust, to develop an innovative new tool to help monitor the quality of life of pet dogs living in family homes. It is hoped that this tool could help to prevent potentially dangerous situations, which may lead to dog bites, and help owners to maximise the benefits of dog ownership.

The paper is freely available to view online at PLOS ONE.

Hope for dogs with separation related problems

New research being undertaken by staff at the School of Life Sciences, University of Lincoln, hopes to simplify treatment for dogs with separation related problems.

Does your dog get distressed when left alone?

If so, the Animal Behaviour, Cognition and Welfare group from the School of Life Sciences, University of Lincoln, is offering an amazing opportunity for your dog to take part in a study which hopes to simplify the treatment of this common and complicated problem. Previous research indicates that up to 80% of dogs improve with a generic treatment plan, which the School is now making more specific and simpler for owners.

Could your dog benefit from our research?
Could your dog benefit from our research?

 

If you and your dog would like to take part in this exciting study where the most recent treatment techniques will be applied over eight weeks, then the School of Life Sciences would like to hear from you. You will need to be able to bring your dog to the University of Lincoln at a select number of times during this period, however, the treatment offered is free of charge.

For more details, please contact Luciana S. de Assis: lassis@lincoln.ac.uk

Life Sciences research features on international radio

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Natalia Albuquerque featured on the show discussing the groundbreaking study which found that dogs can recognise emotions in humans by combining information from different senses. This ability had never previously been observed outside of humans.

The research was carried out as part of collaboration between the School of Life Sciences and the School of Psychology, led by Professor Daniel Mills, Dr Anna Wilkinson, Dr Kun Gao and Natalia.

The interview currently features on The Naked Scientists online. The Naked Scientists is a one-hour audience-interactive science radio talk show broadcast live by the BBC in the East of England, nationally by BBC Radio 5 Live and internationally on ABC Radio National, Australia; it is also distributed globally as a podcast.

The programme was created and is edited by a team at Cambridge University.

Natalia’s interview will be broadcast on ABC Radio Australia on Friday 22nd July and BBC 5 Live on Saturday 23rd July.

Listen here: http://www.thenakedscientists.com/HTML/interviews/interview/1001926/

Life Sciences Undergraduate Showcase

From Life Sciences to Chemistry and Engineering, the University of Lincoln’s College of Science hosts another remarkable showcase of our undergraduate students.

Good luck to everyone on getting back their marks over the next few days.

Here is a little look into a few of our students we spoke to over the two days.

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Zoology student Alexandra Briggs looked at the affect of visitor numbers on the seals at popular viewing site, Donna Nook.

Alex said: “We’ve found that a lot of factors are affecting the seals at Donna Nook and it’s confirming what a lot of people were thinking. The advice to to Donna Nook would be that more and more people are going to come it might be best to put in changes now.

“If the changes work, they can be put in place at other beaches where visitor numbers are a big issue, as some sites have no limitations between us and the seal. People will go up to the seals and pet them, and they run away and leave their pups and they then starve to death, so it can be a huge issue in some places.

“I didn’t just want my research to just be inside, I wanted to be out in the field and doing something I wanted to do.”

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Bioveterinary Science student,Charlotte Carr took up some great work experience at Gatwick Airport with the security dogs. With this interest in mind, she took on the research of looking at dog behaviour levels in the home compared to in a kennel facility.

“Dogs when they were at home and in kennels to see if there’s a difference with their activity, I also compared this to behaviour scores which their owners gave them on their impulsivity, behaviour regulation, aggression and responsiveness.

“I found that as the dog gets older, they get more activity and their impulsivity increases. I also found that females were more impulsive than males and the activity in the kennels increased depending on the breed type, and the impulsivity as well.

“The toy and utility breed type were the most active and the non-working was the least active. The older the dog, the more active. It was strange. We think it was because they’d spent so much time with their owners that they didn’t mind being on their own or in the kennels.”

Charlotte’s findings will help to make improvements on the kennel facilities within Gatwick Airport.

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Jorge Sobral studied the effect of photoperiods on the genitalia of the bruchid beetle.

“I grew them in different light regimes – no light, 12 hours with light and 12 hours in darkness, and I’ve found that photoperiods do affect the size and shape of the genital organs of the beetle.

“I found that beetles grown in half darkness and half-light seem to have the longest parameres, which are in the genitals, for their size. This implies that genetalia may not be a viable way to classify species, so my work kind of contradicts that and says that it might be best to back up with something else too.”

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Looking at a future in wildlife conservation, Chardè Anderson looked at tissue samples of Bottlenose Dolphin species and the possibility of hybrid species.

She said: ‘The university received some tissue samples of Bottlenose Dolphins, and we were looking to see if they belonged to the bottlenose or a hybrid with another species.

“Through a lot of studies, we found there to be a possible one hybrid out of the 24 samples between two different species. Although there did look to be other individuals in the samples to be the same species, but from different regions.”

An amazing array of projects were on show across Life Sciences and we are proud of every one of you. Take a look at our photo album of the two days on Facebook here:

Owning a pet dog can help families of children with autism

A new study has highlighted the potential for pet dogs to reduce stress in parents of children with autism.

A team of psychologists and animal behaviour experts at the University of Lincoln, UK, in conjunction with charities Dogs for the Disabled and the National Autistic Society, discovered a significant decrease in parental stress in those families who acquired a dog.

With support from the Big Lottery Fund, the researchers have been investigating the benefits a pet dog can bring to families with a child with an Autism Spectrum Disorder.

The importance of trained assistance dogs for disabled people and autism assistance dogs, in improving the quality of life of a range of individuals with specific requirements, is well recognised. However, training these dogs requires substantial time and economical input.

In recognition of this problem charity Dogs for the Disabled developed a series of workshops and aftercare support services known as PAWS to demonstrate to parents and carers of children with autism the benefits that pet dogs may bring to their family.

Professor Daniel Mills presented the research findings, which have been published online in the Journal of Autism and Development Disorders, at The Research Autism Lorna Wing Conference, My Family and Autism, in London on Thursday, 21st May.

Professor Daniel Mills, from the School of Life Sciences at the University of Lincoln, said: “These families are often living under great stress, which can bring detrimental impacts to mental and physical health. This study focussed on the potential of pet dogs to alter parenting stress levels. Previous research has suggested that animal-assisted therapy (AAT) can reduce blood pressure and anxiety in a number of individuals. However, AAT typically involves short, structured sessions with a dog, without the additional burden of daily animal care. Given the added responsibility that comes with owning a dog, particularly a puppy, we wanted to assess whether parents living in stressful circumstances could still benefit from animal companionship, despite the increase in responsibilities and duties.”

The researchers used a standardised assessment of parental stress, to measure parents’ stress levels before obtaining a dog and at designated periods after that. At the same time periods, and using the same scale, the team measured parenting stress in a control group of parents with a child with autism, who did not acquire a pet dog during this time.

Significant decreases in parenting stress were observed in the families who acquired a dog and a significant number of these parents moved from clinically high levels of parental distress to within the clinically normal range.

Professor Mills added: “The results highlight the potential of pet dogs to improve parenting stress associated with caring for a child with autism. As well as improving quality of life for these parents, reductions in parenting stress could also improve problematic child behaviours, with research from other teams suggesting that levels of parental stress can determine the success of autism treatments.”

Peter Gorbing, Chief Executive of Dogs for the Disabled, said: “As a charity we constantly see the benefits that dogs bring to people’s lives, far beyond practical support. Our expertise training assistance dogs led us to believe we could also support families affected by autism with a well-trained pet dog. We have now supported more than 600 who have attended our PAWS workshops. To see evidence that pet dogs really can assist by lowering the stress of parents of children with autism is a real endorsement of the charity’s work. It’s also a great example of a low-level intervention – a key element of the UK’s national autism strategy – so this is significant encouragement for our plans to expand the PAWS service.”

Research Director at Research Autism, Richard Mills, said: “Families of children affected by autism commonly experience persistent and damaging levels of stress. This permeates all aspects of family life with serious consequences for health and wellbeing and on overall coping and quality of life. In exploring low-level, socially appropriate interventions in reducing parenting stress and promoting wellbeing, this collaborative study has clearly demonstrated the benefit of introducing a well-trained pet dog into the family.”

Carol Povey, Director of the National Autistic Society’s Centre for Autism, said: “Caring for someone with autism is not always easy, which makes it vital that parents can access a range of different support. For instance, 81% of carers tell us that they developed anxiety due to a lack of support, while 64% said this led to depression. Many parents of children with autism have told us about the benefits of having a family dog, so it’s promising to see evidence that this can significantly alleviate their stress levels. But, as the authors recognise, the individual nature of autism means that it’s unlikely that dog ownership would benefit all families in the same way. Autism can have a profound impact on families but the right support at the right time can make all the difference.”