A USask researcher has found that Labernese (Lab-Bernese mountain dog crosses) visibly improve the ability of the children to walk.

Rehab dogs help children with cerebral palsy walk

Dogs can help children with cerebral palsy walk and gain self-confidence and independence, according to new research by the University of Saskatchewan (USask).

A team of researchers, physiotherapists and veterinarians at USask are studying how large rehabilitation dogs can help improve the mobility, balance and well-being of children living with cerebral palsy.

Cerebral palsy is a neurological condition that can affect movement and overall mobility. The study, awarded $50,000 by the Saskatchewan Health Research Foundation (SHRF), has the potential to reduce health-care costs and improve the lives of many people living with cerebral palsy in Saskatchewan.

Sarah Donkers, a physiotherapist in USask’s School of Rehabilitation Science, has found that service dogs can be more effective than walkers or canes in improving gait and mobility for some children—and more enjoyable. Donkers provides physical rehabilitation to young people with cerebral palsy in Saskatchewan and has found the Labernese (Lab-Bernese mountain dog crosses) visibly improve the ability of the children to walk.   

“We have seen immediate improvements in children’s walking patterns. We think this may be something to do with the animal having a natural walking rhythm, but this is what we are going to study,” she said. “We want to know how these improvements occur and will be studying many things such as muscle activation patterns. This is an innovative intervention strategy to improve gait, independence, and overall well-being of children living with cerebral palsy.”

The Labernese are not only trained to steady children’s gait by walking alongside them with a harness, but can help them open doors, navigate bumps on the sidewalk, and brace if a child become unsteady.

The holistic study by researchers from USask’s School of Rehabilitation Science, College of Kinesiology, Department of Sociology and the Western College of Veterinary Medicine, with community partners including physiotherapists, individuals living with cerebral palsy and Mira, a non-profit organization that trains service dogs, will also research the well-being of the dogs to help improve their care. 

“The dogs are designed to replace some of the walking aids and help with balance training, but they also provide other functions and give people more confidence. They can help navigate real-world environments—like going through a door or assisting in case of a fall—and the dogs may make therapy more enjoyable,” Donkers said.

“The long-term goal is to increase the use of rehabilitation dogs and mobility service dogs in physical rehabilitation and ultimately improve access to these dogs for Saskatchewan residents.”

Improving health

SHRF has awarded 10 USask researchers grants of up to $50,000 for research which would improve the health of residents of the province. In addition to Donkers, the successful USask research projects in the 2018-2019 funding round are:

Amira Abdelrasoul, College of Engineering, $50,000

Investigations on Blood-Hemodialysis Membrane Interactions for Enhancing Biocompatibility    

Angela Bowen, College of Nursing, $50,000

Bridging the generations: Cultural mentorship to promote aging Indigenous women’s health      

Francisco Cayabyab, College of Medicine, $50,000

Targeting HERG-STAT1 Interaction for Novel Anti-Cancer Therapy   

George Katselis, College of Medicine, $50,000

Investigating the Role of Diabetic Pregnancies in Kidney Disease Among Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus Adolescents Using Urine Proteomics  

Saija Kontulainen, College of Kinesiology, $50,000

Bone Strength development in children with Type 1 Diabetes (BSD Pilot)    

Geoffrey Maina , College of Nursing   $42,668

Engaging and empowering youth at risk of alcohol and drug use in Prince Albert: An art-based intervention

Louise Racine, College of Nursing  $48,478

Towards an Understanding of Indigenous Perspectives on Cognitive Impairment and Dementia in Saskatchewan

Changiz Taghibiglou, College of Medicine , Pharmacology,  $50,000

Effect of Low Field Magnetic Stimulation (LFMS) on Restoring Dopaminergic Neurons, Cognitive and Motor Functions in an experimental model of Parkinson’s Disease 

Steve Wormith, College of Arts and Science $49,976

Older Offenders in Correctional Service Canada

More information is available at: https://shrf.ca/

Share this story