Some 71% of pet owners know that their pets can improve their physical and mental health but this realization is by no means new.
In ancient Greece as far back as 600BC, horses were touted for their therapeutic properties when it was noticed that the presence of horses seemed to lift the mood of people with serious illnesses.
Today, a wide array of animals (ranging from horses to guinea pigs) are used in animal-assisted therapy to achieve numerous goals including improving independent movement, improving motor skills, and boosting self-esteem.
Below are just a few of their most important uses among children.
As stated by the cerebral palsy network CPFN, this group of disorders can affect a person’s mobility, posture, balance, and ability to communicate, eat, sleep, and learn. Animals such as dogs can help children with cerebral palsy meet their goals, reduce stress, provide physical support while they perform their exercises, and motivate them to work harder and return for future sessions.
Horses (equine therapy) are also commonly used to help children with cerebral palsy improve mobility and confidence, improve muscle symmetry, improve gross motor function, and more. In a typical session, children may ride, pet, or care for horses, with each session depending on one’s individual goals.
Therapeutic Visitation Animals
Sometimes, the goal of a therapy animal isn’t to assist a child in completing a rehabilitation session, but rather, to reduce anxiety and lift the mood. This is the case for animals that are brought to hospitals. In one 2017 study, it was found that therapy dog visits to children in an inpatient oncology unit resulted in lower distress and significant decreases in fear, sadness, worry, tiredness, and pain.
Improving Communication and Social Skills
Animal-assisted therapy is used to boost communication and social interaction among children. Research has shown that therapeutic horseback riding, for instance, can reduce hyperactivity and inattentiveness among children with ADHD.
Horses are also used to motivate children with Down syndrome to perform speech, occupational, and physical therapy exercises. Dogs, meanwhile, can help children with autism or learning difficulties improve their communication skills. For instance, therapy dogs can help children build their vocabulary. They can learn useful adjectives and verbs through sentences such as “Binky is soft.” “She is sitting.” “Her tongue is hanging out of her mouth,” and similar.
Reading Suggestion: 500 Horse Names For Male and Female Horse Names
Cuddly Companions and Reading
Animals do not have to be official ‘therapy pets’ to have a positive effect on a child’s learning. A 2019 study by researchers at the University of British Columbia found that reading in the presence of a dog can be the page-turning motivation kids need to progress.
The study, undertaken on kids from Grades One to Three, found that those who read in the presence of a dog read for considerably more time and showed more persistence. The children also said that they felt more interested in reading and more competent while doing so with a friendly animal by their side.
Animals are helping children in many ways. In formal settings, animals like dogs and horses are commonly used to help children achieve therapeutic goals. Simply having a furry friend around, however, can also help motivate children with tasks such as reading.