Upfront

Parents who can't get their kids to listen to them may want to consider getting a dog, suggests research by Nancy Gee, PhD, a psychology professor at the State University of New York at Fredonia. In a study in the September issue of Anthrozoos (Vol. 22, No. 3), Gee found that preschool children with special needs followed directions better when they performed tasks with one of her trained poodles than they did by themselves or when coupled with a human or stuffed dog co-performer.

In another study under review in the same journal, Gee also found that the children needed fewer prompts to complete an object recognition task when they were with the dogs rather than a human.

"You would think that the dogs would be distracting, but they actually helped the child complete the task," said Gee, who shared her research at an APA 2009 Annual Convention symposium on animal-assisted therapy.

A 2007 Anthrozoos study (Vol. 20, No. 4) also suggested that Gee's dogs, Nikki and Louie, helped enhance the children's cognitive and gross motor skills. When the children performed tasks such as crawling through a tunnel or completing an obstacle course, they were faster and just as accurate alongside one of the poodles than by themselves. Gee said the children's attachment to the dog may increase motivation and focus, enabling the kids to follow instructions more closely.

The session was sponsored by the Animal-Human Interaction section of APA Div. 17 (Society for Counseling Psychology).

—A. Novotney