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06/07/2013

The bond between dogs and humans just got deeper

Dogs

In this Toronto Star file photo, kids pat Celeste, a dog, who worked at Therapeutic Paws.  

The bond between dogs and humans is ancient and it is enduring. And it is unique. They are an intrinsic part of our lives.

But we know that, we’ve heard that before.

Now Lindsay Ellsworth, a doctoral candidate in animal sciences at the Washington State University, is working on a study that demonstrates how dog-interaction activities improve mood among teenagers in drug and alcohol treatment programs.   

According to reports, on Friday afternoons, four dogs from the Spokane Humane Society take a field trip to Excelsior Youth Centre where a group of teenage boys wait for them. The participants then help brush, feed and play with the dogs.

“We found one of the most robust effects of interacting with the dogs was increased joviality,” Ellsworth was quoted as saying. “Some of the words the boys used to describe their moods after working with the dogs were 'excited,' 'energetic' 'and happy.'”

It’s believed to be the first of its kind of study.

The way the study works is simple: Once a week, Ellsworth divides eight participants into two groups. One group plays pool, video games or basketball. The other group interacts with shelter dogs for about an hour.

Before it all starts, the participants identify 60 mood descriptors on a scale of one to five on what is known as the PANAS-X, a self-reporting method organizational psychologists use to scale and study emotion. Later, the participants fill out the same scale.

Not surprisingly, those who spent time with the dogs not only showed an increase in joviality but also positive affect, and overall sadness decreased.

“I was surprised, during the trial period, how calm the boys were around the dogs and at how outbursts and hyperactivity diminished,” she said in an interview. “It was something you could observe like night and day.”

That’s dog love for you.

Raveena Aulakh is the Star's environment reporter. She is intrigued by climate change and its impact, now and long-term, and wildlife. Follow her on Twitter @raveenaaulakh

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