Lindsay Ellsworth, a doctoral candidate at Washington State University, has a new, mood-boosting therapy for teenagers in drug and alcohol treatment.
The treatment is shelter dogs!
On Friday afternoons, a group of approximately four dogs from the Spokane Humane Society visit the Excelsior Youth Center, where teenagers in treatment there can help brush, feed and play with the dogs.
“We found one of the most robust effects of interacting with the dogs was increased joviality,” she said. “Some of the words the boys used to describe their moods after working with the dogs were ‘excited,’ ‘energetic’ ‘and happy.'”
Ellsworth’s study is the first of its kind to demonstrate how dog-interaction activities improve mood among teenagers living in residential treatment centers.
Ellsworth’s methodology is fairly standard to research projects, involving a test group and a control group. Once a week, during the daily recreation time at the Center, Ellsworth breaks about eight participants into two groups. One group plays pool, video games or basketball provided in the treatment center. The other group interacts with the shelter dogs for about an hour.
Before the activity period, participants identify 60 mood descriptors on a scale of one to five on what is known as the PANAS-X, a self-reporting method organizational psychologists use to scale and study emotion. After the activity, the participants fill out the same scale.
Robert Faltermeyer, executive director of the youth center, and the staff are hopeful this kind of science-based program could be established as part of treatment centers’ structured activities.
“It’s an opportunity for kids in a real chaotic life, making unhealthy choices, to focus in on a specific task with an animal,” he said. “It empowers them to make positive changes even on the simplest scale of correcting the animal’s behavior.”