Children suffer from stress too – especially at school. Giving a presentation, taking an oral exam, or solving a difficult math problem on the blackboard are typical stressful situations for many schoolchildren. If the lessons were accompanied by a school dog, the situation would be much more relaxed.
Dogs relieve stress
A German-Austrian-Swiss research group has been investigating the positive effects of dogs on children and adults in stressful situations for a long time. A test was able to prove that the stress hormone cortisol decreases in children in exam situations when a dog stands by as social and emotional support. The children were also much more active in the presence of a dog. The stress-reducing effect is therefore not only due to the mere presence of the dog but to an active child-dog interaction.
According to current knowledge, the “feel-good hormone” oxytocin is responsible for this. The researchers assume that touching the dog in a difficult situation for the children causes the formation of a large amount of oxytocin and, accordingly, the cortisol level decreases.
Children in particular, who find it difficult to trust other people, who have to deal with bad experiences in the family, perhaps even traumatic experiences, react in stressful situations with an increased release of the hormone cortisol,” says Prof. Dr. Henri Julius, leader of the German research team. “If the children are accompanied by a dog in an unsettling situation, the stress level rises much less and falls much faster than with children who do not have a four-legged friend at their side,” Julius continues.
Animal-assisted therapy in children
A dog can be a valuable emotional supporter, especially for children with attachment problems. As four-legged therapists, animals and especially dogs are quick and efficient to help where people no longer have access to injured children’s souls. Therefore, dogs have been used in therapy situations with children for several decades. Pets are also used in hospitals, psychiatric institutions, and hospices to reduce stress and loneliness.