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Commentary

Dog Welfare, Well-Being and Behavior: Considerations for Selection, Evaluation and Suitability for Animal-Assisted Therapy

1
Center for Human Animal Interventions, Oakland University, Rochester, MI 48309, USA
2
School of Life Sciences, University of Lincoln, Lincoln, Lincs LN6 7DL, UK
*
Authors to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Animals 2020, 10(11), 2188; https://doi.org/10.3390/ani10112188
Received: 7 October 2020 / Revised: 16 November 2020 / Accepted: 19 November 2020 / Published: 23 November 2020
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Companion animals welfare and behaviour)
Benefits for humans participating in animal-assisted therapy (AAT) have been long documented; however, welfare considerations for the animal counterparts are still quite non-specific, often relating to more general concerns associated with animal-assisted interventions (AAIs). Providers of AAT have a moral and ethical obligation to extend the “Do No Harm” tenet to the animals with whom they work. Companion animals do not ask or voluntarily sign up to be a part of a therapeutic team and their natural traits of love and sociability can easily be misinterpreted and exploited. This article reviews the current state of animal-assisted interventions; it highlights the lack of sufficient evaluation processes for dogs working with AAT professionals, as well as the risks associated with not protecting the dogs’ welfare. Finally, the authors make recommendations for determining the suitability of specific dogs in the clinical setting and ensuring that the population, environment, and context of the work is amenable to the dogs’ welfare and well-being.
Health care and human service providers may include dogs in formal intervention settings to positively impact human physical, cognitive and psychosocial domains. Dogs working within this context are asked to cope with a multitude of variables including settings, populations, activities, and schedules. In this article, the authors highlight how both the preparation and operation of dogs within animal-assisted therapy (AAT) differs from less structured animal-assisted activities (AAA) and more exclusive assistance animal work; the authors highlight the gaps in our knowledge in this regard, and propose an ethically sound framework for pragmatic solutions. This framework also emphasizes the need for good dog welfare to safeguard all participants. If dogs are not properly matched to a job or handler, they may be subjected to unnecessary stress, anxiety, and miscommunication that can lead to disinterest in the work, overt problematic behavioral or health outcomes, or general unsuitability. Such issues can have catastrophic outcomes for the AAT. The authors propose standards for best practices for selection, humane-based preparation and training, and ongoing evaluation to ensure the health, welfare and well-being of dogs working in AAT, which will have concomitant benefits for clients and the professionalism of the field. View Full-Text
Keywords: welfare; well-being; behavior; shelter; companion animals; dogs; training/positive reinforcement training; evaluation welfare; well-being; behavior; shelter; companion animals; dogs; training/positive reinforcement training; evaluation
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MDPI and ACS Style

Winkle, M.; Johnson, A.; Mills, D. Dog Welfare, Well-Being and Behavior: Considerations for Selection, Evaluation and Suitability for Animal-Assisted Therapy. Animals 2020, 10, 2188. https://doi.org/10.3390/ani10112188

AMA Style

Winkle M, Johnson A, Mills D. Dog Welfare, Well-Being and Behavior: Considerations for Selection, Evaluation and Suitability for Animal-Assisted Therapy. Animals. 2020; 10(11):2188. https://doi.org/10.3390/ani10112188

Chicago/Turabian Style

Winkle, Melissa, Amy Johnson, and Daniel Mills. 2020. "Dog Welfare, Well-Being and Behavior: Considerations for Selection, Evaluation and Suitability for Animal-Assisted Therapy" Animals 10, no. 11: 2188. https://doi.org/10.3390/ani10112188

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