Okay, so the other day a friend called me out for having conversations on Instagram between myself, my cats, and the service dog in-training I am currently raising (@tai.m42, @arielandtempest, and @dww_chico respectively). I’m definitely missing my social interaction at the moment and that is definitely manifesting itself as some conversations with my animals only a few of which have ended up public on Instagram.
This got me thinking though. I’ve had students tell me about explaining biology concepts to their animals. Or use their animals to test electrostatics in physics. So, while we know that the presence of animals can improve feelings of stress and anxiety can we actually learn anything from talking to animals?
Harris and Binfet (2020) found that therapy dogs appeared to have positive benefits for children learning new social skills. The children were taught a new skill like giving directions and then they practiced with an assigned therapy dog before practicing with the other kids and eventually with university students (their dog and volunteer handler accompanied them on this last step). With the dogs, the children were in better moods and demonstrated increased engagement. Even the children reported benefits including becoming more responsible and controlling “silliness.”
I get that learning these skills a first time is different from just getting out of practice because of social isolation due to a global pandemic. However, when social interactions can be stressful, keeping up some pretense of conversation somewhere in your life seems like it could help people ease back out of isolation when the time comes. Perhaps with all the pandemic pets someone is already studying this or interested in doing so, if so please be in touch. In the meantime, I’m going to continue my conversations with the furry beings in my life.