Classroom Pets Aren't Just for Fun: New Research Reveals Animals' Positive Impact on Students

Research Review from the WALTHAM™ Centre for Pet Nutrition, Mars Petcare and National Institutes of Health Aggregates Existing Studies, Shows How Pets Affect Behavior and Learning

FRANKLIN, Tenn., Aug. 29, 2017 — Classroom pets have long been seen as a way to support teaching efforts and help students learn – and research released today shows the true impact that animals can have on children in a classroom setting. This new review of research, conducted by the WALTHAM™ Centre for Pet Nutrition and National Institutes of Health’s Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, was published in the American Educational Research Association Open (AERA Open) journal today, and findings include details about how animals can reduce stress and anxiety, improve social interaction, and increase motivation and learning.

This is the first comprehensive overview of global research that examines the benefits of animals in the classroom, and the positive impact they can have on motivating and engaging children, helping them to calmly sort through an argument, conflict, or tough assignment, and even make it easier for children to make friends with classmates, teachers and others in the community. This research provides a framework to understanding the significant impact animals can have on children’s learning to guide future researchers.

“There are so many anecdotes about how animals affect student learning, but there isn’t much data about the benefits of human-animal interaction (HAI) in these settings,” said Nancy Gee, WALTHAM™ Human-Animal Interaction Research Manager and lead author of the study, entitled Human–Animal Interaction Research in School Settings: Current Knowledge and Future Directions. “This paper brings together research from around the world and organizes it within a framework that helps us understand the impact of animals on kids in a learning setting. It also helps guide the direction of future research on this topic.”

Key findings in the study include:

  • Behavioral Impact: When an animal is brought into a classroom setting, students are more likely to follow instructions and to focus on a task. They ask more appropriate questions and engage with their teacher more. There are fewer emotional outbursts and more positive behaviors.
  • Social Interaction: The studies show that when there are animals present in classroom settings, students start paying attention and sitting still. In fact, one study showed kids actually paid more attention to the teacher in the presence of a dog.
  • Attitude Improvement: These studies also found that the presence of a dog in the classroom can improve children’s attitude toward school and helps them to learn responsibility, respect and empathy.

The WALTHAM™ Centre for Pet Nutrition is a part of Mars Petcare, and focuses on the nutrition and wellbeing of animals and their benefits to humans.

“At Mars Petcare, we work every day to recognize positive impact that animals have on our lives, and our partners at WALTHAM have been leading the charge on this front for more than 50 years,” said Dr. Tiffany Bierer, Health and Nutrition Manager, Mars Petcare. “These studies are so important because they validate what we often have observed to be true when it comes to the ways animals make life better. Pairing these observations with science is a great way to demonstrate just how valuable animals are – in the classroom and in our daily lives.”

While many teachers have brought pets into the classroom or arranged animal visits, not as many schools have formal programs to support it. The research review suggests there’s a scientific grounding for pets in the classroom, and these potential benefits should be further explored and better understood. More in-depth, larger scale research studies are needed to verify and extend these preliminary findings. However, the signs are positive that the effect of animals in the classroom has a beneficial impact on children’s learning.

“Once we fully understand the circumstances under which pets in the classroom are beneficial for student learning, we can begin to establish scientifically based best practice guidelines for having animals in educational settings,” said Gee. “The benefits that we are seeing are most apparent when the experience is positive for the animals and the kids, so planning and guide rails are needed to make sure the pets are happy and cared for appropriately.”

For more information on the WALTHAM™ Centre for Pet Nutrition, visit www.waltham.com.

About the WALTHAM™ Centre for Pet Nutrition
The WALTHAM™ Centre for Pet Nutrition is the fundamental science center for Mars Petcare and focuses on the nutrition and wellbeing of dogs, cats, horses, birds and fish, and their benefits to humans. Located in Leicestershire, England, WALTHAM offers expertise and knowledge that inform the development of innovative products that meet the needs of companion animals in a practical way. The Centre recently celebrated its half century and has pioneered many important breakthroughs in the field, publishing over 600 peer-reviewed scientific papers. Today, WALTHAM™ continues to collaborate with the world’s foremost scientific institutes, driving Mars Petcare’s vision: A BETTER WORLD FOR PETS® and delivering the science that underpins leading Mars brands such as PEDIGREE®, WHISKAS®, ROYAL CANIN®, IAMS®, CESAR®, NUTRO®, SHEBA®, DREAMIES® and EUKANUBA®.

About Mars Petcare US
Mars Petcare is the world’s leading pet nutrition and health care business. A BETTER WORLD FOR PETS® is the vision statement held by Mars Petcare as we believe that pets make our lives better and that pet ownership brings joy and benefits which should be accessible to everyone. In the United States, Mars Petcare food brands include PEDIGREE®, IAMS®, ROYAL CANIN®, GREENIES®, CESAR®, NUTRO® and SHEBA®. Veterinary practices include BANFIELD® and BLUE PEARL®. Specialty brands include WISDOM PANEL® Canine DNA Tests and WHISTLE® GPS Pet Tracker. The company’s WALTHAM™ Centre for Pet Nutrition is a leading scientific authority on pet nutrition and wellbeing. Mars Petcare has more than 37,000 Associates worldwide. For more information about Mars Petcare’s vision: A BETTER WORLD FOR PETS®, visit www.bettercitiesforpets.com.

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