Research: Dogs Can Raise Activity Levels for Kids with Disabilities

A new study from Oregon State University suggests that spending more time with the family dog can help boost activity levels and quality of life for children with disabilities.

The research project’s author, Megan MacDonald, Ph.D., assistant professor of the College of Public Health and Human Sciences at Oregon State, said the study combined prescribed tasks, such as having the child brush the dog’s fur and having child and dog go on daily walks, and more generic activities, such as playing fetch and balancing/walking on a wobble board.

In an Oregon State news announcement, MacDonald said, “The dog would also balance on the wobble board, so it became a challenge for the child — If the dog can do it, I can, too. It was so cool to see the relationship between the child and the dog evolve over time. They develop a partnership and the activities become more fun and challenging for the child. It becomes, in part, about the dog and the responsibility of taking care of it.”

After the eight-week project was over, researchers re-evaluated the child in the study and found that the child’s “quality of life had increased significantly in several areas, including emotional, social and physical health, as assessed by the child as well as the parent. In addition, the child’s sedentary behavior decreased and time spent on moderate to vigorous activity increased dramatically.”

And the child wasn’t the only study participant to benefit. Monique Udell, Ph.D., a study co-author and director of Oregon State’s Human-Animal Interaction Lab, noted that the relationship between child and dog had improved after the eight-week trial.

The Oregon State team said both child and dog improved on cognitive and physical tasks after their time in the study.

“The findings so far are very encouraging,” MacDonald said. “There’s a chance down the road we could be encouraging families to adopt a dog for the public health benefits. How cool would that be?” 

About the Author

Laurie Watanabe is the editor of Mobility Management. She can be reached at

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