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Brief Report

Working like a Dog: Exploring the Role of a Therapy Dog in Clinical Exercise Physiology Practice

1
School of Health and Medical Sciences, University of Southern Queensland, Salisbury Rd., Ipswich, QLD 4305, Australia
2
Centre for Health Research, University of Southern Queensland, Salisbury Rd., Ipswich, QLD 4305, Australia
3
PhASRec (Physical Activity, Sport, and Recreation), North-West University, Potchefstroom 2520, South Africa
4
School of Psychology and Wellbeing, University of Southern Queensland, Salisbury Rd., Ipswich, QLD 4305, Australia
*
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
The three alumni were students when the study was undertaken, and are now in private practices in various locations around Australia.
Academic Editor: Monica Battini
Animals 2022, 12(10), 1237; https://doi.org/10.3390/ani12101237
Received: 7 March 2022 / Revised: 19 April 2022 / Accepted: 3 May 2022 / Published: 11 May 2022
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Human-Animal Communication)
Animals may be included in clinical care because they are suggested to reduce patients’ anxiety and stress and increase their interaction with practitioners. In this study, we surveyed and interviewed clients and students from a university teaching clinic about the inclusion of a therapy dog in the delivery of exercise physiology services. The dog and her handler worked together as a team in the clinic for one day a week for most of a year. No other animals worked in the clinic. Services in the clinic were led by students, who were supervised by the exercise physiologist who was also the canine handler. All clients came to the clinic to engage in exercise as medicine, that is, exercise as part of disease management or for recovery from injury or illness. One person who took part in the study had not actually met the dog, so we excluded those results. Everyone else who was surveyed or interviewed considered the dog, a female black Labrador, to be a well-behaved dog, and no-one considered her to be problematic to their engagement in exercise. Including a dog in clinical exercise practice may enhance some parts of the service delivery.
Therapy animals in clinical settings are purported to reduce patients’ anxiety, decrease agitated behaviour, serve as social mediators, enhance the social atmosphere, and increase patients’ openness towards practitioners. A therapy dog worked alongside her exercise physiologist handler for approximately 1 day/week in a university clinic. The canine and handler functioned as a team, while the handler simultaneously undertook supervision of students. The clinic was open 24 h/week, and no other therapeutic animal was present for any part of the week. We explored, via surveys and interviews, human responses to the dog. The survey comprised 15 statement items regarding the canine’s role, behaviour, and acceptability in the clinic, ranked from strongly disagree (−2) to strongly agree (2), followed by an open item inviting participants to follow up interviews. Eleven (11) clinical clients and seven (7) students completed the survey. One client had not encountered the canine; these data were excluded. Four (4) participants from the client sample provided subsequent telephone interviews. All participants identified the canine as well-behaved; no participants considered that she detracted from their exercise sessions. Most participants were equivocal to statements regarding social lubrication and openness to practitioners; only three clients and two students identified that they felt more willing to share health information; three students identified that they felt they could confide more in the canine than in the practitioner. Interviewees’ reports were similarly favourable, reinforcing the information obtained from the surveys. Interview transcripts were subject to thematic analysis, which focussed around four key themes: (1) the canine’s good behaviour, (2) clients giving permission, and the canine as both (3) a pleasant distraction from the effort of exercise, and (4) nice to have. A therapy dog may enhance some aspects of exercise physiology service delivery. View Full-Text
Keywords: canine; animal-assisted therapy canine; animal-assisted therapy
MDPI and ACS Style

Cameron, M.; Hewitt, E.; Hollitt, E.; Wood, J.; Brown, S. Working like a Dog: Exploring the Role of a Therapy Dog in Clinical Exercise Physiology Practice. Animals 2022, 12, 1237. https://doi.org/10.3390/ani12101237

AMA Style

Cameron M, Hewitt E, Hollitt E, Wood J, Brown S. Working like a Dog: Exploring the Role of a Therapy Dog in Clinical Exercise Physiology Practice. Animals. 2022; 12(10):1237. https://doi.org/10.3390/ani12101237

Chicago/Turabian Style

Cameron, Melainie, Emily Hewitt, Elizabeth Hollitt, Jacqueline Wood, and Samantha Brown. 2022. "Working like a Dog: Exploring the Role of a Therapy Dog in Clinical Exercise Physiology Practice" Animals 12, no. 10: 1237. https://doi.org/10.3390/ani12101237

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