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Article

Interactions between the Public and Assistance Dog Handlers and Trainers

1
School of Health Sciences, Massey University, Palmerston North 4442, New Zealand
2
School of Social Work, Massey University, Palmerston North 4442, New Zealand
*
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Academic Editor: Benjamin Hart
Animals 2021, 11(12), 3359; https://doi.org/10.3390/ani11123359
Received: 8 November 2021 / Revised: 21 November 2021 / Accepted: 22 November 2021 / Published: 24 November 2021
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Human Mental Health: Human–Animal Interaction)
The number of disability assistance dogs in Aotearoa New Zealand (NZ) is small but slowly growing; therefore, encountering an assistance dog in a public place remains a novel experience for most people. Little is known about the experiences of NZ handlers and trainers with the public. In this research, there were both benefits and challenges for participants when interacting with the public. Handlers benefited from increased social engagement but they experienced the challenges of denied access to businesses, cafés, restaurants, shops, and public transport; invasive personal questions; unwanted interactions; and interference with the dog. These challenges were most difficult to manage. These findings highlighted the complexity of such interactions and the need to inform the public about the dog/handler or dog/trainer teams’ legal right of access to public places and etiquette on how to interact with these teams.
This research aimed to explore the experiences of handlers and trainers of disability assistance dogs in terms of the types of interactions they had with members of the Aotearoa NZ (NZ) public and how these interactions were perceived, interpreted, and managed. A qualitative method, guided by an interpretive approach and social constructionism, was utilised to collect data via semi-structured interviews with six handlers and six trainers of assistance dogs. Data were analysed using thematic analysis with the social model of disability as the theoretical base. Findings indicated that participants regularly faced a complex range of unique interactions due to various factors such as the public’s lack of knowledge and understanding of the dog’s role and right of access to public places. While participants encountered brief friendly comments about the dog and its role, other encounters involved long conversations, invasive personal questions, interference with their dogs, and denied access to businesses, cafés, restaurants, and public transport. These findings underpin the need to provide more education to the public on the etiquette of engaging with handlers and their assistance dogs and more support for businesses to understand the legal rights of handlers. Through education and support to change societal attitudes and remove structural barriers, disabled people using assistance dogs may be able to independently participate in community life and be fully included without hindrance. View Full-Text
Keywords: assistance dog; service dog; disability assist dog; disability; social model of disability; discrimination; denied access; social interactions assistance dog; service dog; disability assist dog; disability; social model of disability; discrimination; denied access; social interactions
MDPI and ACS Style

McManus, B.; Good, G.; Yeung, P. Interactions between the Public and Assistance Dog Handlers and Trainers. Animals 2021, 11, 3359. https://doi.org/10.3390/ani11123359

AMA Style

McManus B, Good G, Yeung P. Interactions between the Public and Assistance Dog Handlers and Trainers. Animals. 2021; 11(12):3359. https://doi.org/10.3390/ani11123359

Chicago/Turabian Style

McManus, Bronwyn, Gretchen Good, and Polly Yeung. 2021. "Interactions between the Public and Assistance Dog Handlers and Trainers" Animals 11, no. 12: 3359. https://doi.org/10.3390/ani11123359

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