What’s in a Dog? Children Learn and Apply Mindfulness Similarly With and Without a Dog

Jovana Nikcevic1 and Jessica Lee Oliva1,2

1 School of Psychological Sciences, Faculty of Medicine, Nursing and Health Sciences, Monash University, Melbourne, Australia
2 Present address: College of Healthcare Sciences, James Cook University, Townsville, Australia

Offering early interventions to address mental health disorders in school settings may minimize long-term consequences and increase accessibility for a non-clinical sample. The aim of this study was to qualitatively explore children’s experiences of learning mindfulness in school, with and without a dog. Forty-four primary school students aged 8 to 12 years were cluster randomised into one of two conditions: Mindfulness Only (n = 18) or Dog Assisted Mindfulness (n = 26) and participated in an in-school 20-minute guided mindfulness session once a week for 6 weeks. Thematic content analysis revealed that both groups experienced positive emotions and feelings of relaxion or calm during and after the sessions. Dog related activity was the most frequently noted favorite aspect of the sessions for the dog-assisted group, and participants from both groups favoured mindfulness activity, quiet and stillness, and breathing at approximately equal frequencies. Students also experienced increased attention and mindfulness, quiet or stillness and increased agency of own feelings, with both groups commonly using mindfulness techniques outside of sessions to aid the onset of sleep and for emotion regulation. Overall, the participants in both intervention groups shared similar positive experiences, learnings, and applications, suggesting that learning mindfulness with and without a dog may have similar benefits.
Keywords: Dog, Mindfulness, AAI, School, Children.

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Keywords: AAI, children, dog, Mindfulness, School
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