Animal Assisted Therapy & its Affects on the Dog
Quoted from Pet Industry News:
Animal-assisted interventions (AAIs) are becoming increasingly popular in clinical settings. AAIs are defined as the ‘purposeful incorporation of specially trained animals in services to improve human health’, and dogs are commonly used for these interventions.
These therapy dogs interact with a variety of patients in a clinical setting, and it is possible that the dogs find these interactions stressful. There is currently a lack of agreement regarding if and how AAIs affect animal welfare, and further research is needed to ensure the welfare needs of therapy dogs are being met. This study measured the physiological and behavioural effects of regular AAI sessions on therapy dogs.
The AAIs monitored in this study occurred between therapy dogs and children between the ages of 3-17 years who had recently been diagnosed with cancer in the USA. The children were enrolled in the study for a four-month period, during which they received weekly visits from the same therapy dog and handler. A total of 26 therapy dogs were used to visit 60 children, and each visit lasted for approximately 20 minutes. The dog handlers completed a questionnaire relating to how their dog typically responds to common events and stimuli in the environment, and collected saliva samples at home and immediately after an AAI to determine changes in stress physiology (cortisol). The behaviour of the dogs was video recorded during each AAI and the total frequency of stress-related behaviours and affiliative behaviours were recorded for each session.
The results of this study indicate that therapy dogs show minimal signs of distress during AAI sessions. The therapy dogs did not have a significantly increased physiological stress response following the session, nor did they exhibit significantly more stress-related behaviours than affiliative-related behaviours. There were significant relationships found between salivary cortisol and behaviour, with a higher cortisol concentration associated with more stress behaviours, and lower cortisol concentration associated with more affiliative behaviours. This study provides valuable and rigorous evidence that AAI participation in paediatric hospitals does not appear to place therapy dogs at significant risk of stress.
McCullough A, Jenkins MA, Ruehrdanz A (2018)
Physiological and behavioural effects of animal-assisted interventions on therapy dogs in pediatric oncology settings.
Applied Animal Behaviour Science 200:86-95.
Source: RSPCA Animal Welfare Science