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There is growing interest in animal-assisted therapy in the treatment of autism spectrum disorders. Despite the potential promise for pet dog ownership to improve the lives of those affected by autism, there is limited research in this area. This study is the first to explore the long-term effects of acquiring a pet dog. Using standardized self-report measures, families who had acquired a pet dog (intervention group; n = 22) showed significantly improved family functioning in comparison to control group families (n = 15, with no dog). Both groups showed reductions in domains of parenting stress. These reductions were more evident in the intervention group; 20% of parents moved from clinically high to normal stress levels. In the domain of parent-child dysfunctional interactions, reductions were only observed in the intervention group. A significant positive relationship was observed between parenting stress of the child's main carer and their attachment to the dog.
Journal: Journal of Veterinary Behavior: Clinical Applications and Research - Volume 13, May–June 2016, Pages 46–54