Animal-Assisted Education: Exploratory Research on the Positive Impact of Dogs on Behavioral and Emotional Outcomes of Elementary School Students

Riki Verhoeven 1,*, René Butter 2, Rob Martens 3 and Marie-José Enders-Slegers 3

Abstract: For some students, school success is not a simple matter. A growing, innovative approach that supports students’ functioning at school is programs in which animals are involved in education. The involvement of animals, especially dogs, in education is known as animal-assisted education (AAE). A literature review of AAE indicated a positive influence of AAE programs on the quality of learning and social emotional development in children. This study explored whether AAE positively impacts the social and emotional outcomes of elementary school students aged between 8 and 13 years through mixed methods. The methods used were a survey and an observational study. The survey section of the study showed that students participating in the program with the dogs rated themselves, after the intervention period, significantly higher in terms of self-confidence and had a more positive score for relationships with other students after the intervention. As rated by their teachers, after the intervention period, students scored significantly higher in relation to work attitude, pleasant behavior, emotional stability, and social behavior. In the observational study, we analyzed the video material of students who participated in an AAE program with dogs. We concluded that all verbal and non-verbal behaviors of the students increased, except eye contact. The current study indicates future directions for theoretical underpinnings, improved understanding, and the empirical measurement of the underlying variables and artikel