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Role of 4-H Dog Programs in Life Skills Development

By Lindsay Madden Ellsworth, Heidi A. Keen, Paulette E. Mills, Jerry Newman, François Martin, Todd Coffey, Ruth C. Newberry

Category Journal Articles

Stress management, resilience, learning-to-learn, self-esteem, and empathy are life skills that play a pivotal role in the psychosocial development of youth who are prepared to manage everyday challenges, and are caring toward people and animals. We hypothesized that 4-H dog club membership is associated with improved life skills of youth participating in these activities compared with youth who do not. We surveyed Washington and Idaho youth (n = 150, 6–17 years old, M = 11.5) in three conditions: 4-H clubs conducting dog-focused activities (4-H dog clubs), 4-H clubs conducting activities not involving dogs (4-H non-dog clubs), and school youth not involved in 4-H (school group). Life skills, and attitude toward and attachment to pets, were assessed using the Emotional Quotient Inventory: Youth Version (Short), Self-Perception Profile for Children, Social Skills Improvement System Rating Scales, Pet Attitude Scale, and Lexington Attachment to Pets Scale. Analysis of covariance was used to evaluate main effects of condition and covariates (age, sex, number of siblings, and dog(s) at home), and two-way interaction effects on questionnaire scores. Condition affected scores: youth in 4-H dog clubs had higher stress management scores (p < 0.01) compared with those in 4-H non-dog clubs and school group conditions, and higher scholastic competence (p < 0.05) and global self-worth (p < 0.01) scores compared with those in the school group. Much of the variation in scores remains unexplained by the predictors investigated. Thus, the extent to which the results represent an interest in 4-H dog activities due to pre-existing characteristics as opposed to changes resulting from the 4-H experience is unclear. Nevertheless, 83% of study participants had at least one dog, and condition effects were detected after accounting for dogs at home, suggesting that 4-H activities involving dogs had beneficial effects over and above any benefits resulting from dog contact per se.

Publication Title Anthrozoös
Volume 30
Issue 1
Pages 91-108
ISBN/ISSN 0892-7936
DOI 10.1080/08927936.2017.1270596
Cite this work

Researchers should cite this work as follows:

  1. Attitudes
  2. Companion
  3. Dogs
  4. Human-animal interactions
  5. Human development
  6. Life