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Behavioral effects of the presence of a dog in a classroom

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To test the idea that dogs have a positive influence on the social behavior of school children, one of three dogs was introduced alternately into a class at an elementary school in Vienna, attended by 24 children (mean age: 6.7 years). Most of the 14 boys and ten girls came from first-generation immigrant families. With parental consent, their behavior was videotaped for two hours every week, during “open teaching situations,” first during a one-month control period in the absence of dogs, followed by an experimental period of similar duration, when a dog was present in the classroom. Frequency and duration of all observable behaviors of individuals and their interactions were coded from these tapes. Although major individual differences were found in the children's interest in the dog and their behavioral responses, the group became socially more homogenous due to decreased behavioral extremes, such as aggressiveness and hyperactivity; also, formerly withdrawn individuals became socially more integrated. Effects were more pronounced in the boys than the girls. Even though the children spent considerable time watching and making contacting with the dog, they also paid more attention to the teacher. We conclude that the presence of a dog in a classroom could positively stimulate social cohesion in children and provide a relatively cheap and easy means of improving teaching conditions.
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