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Open AccessArticle

Evaluating Stress in Dogs Involved in Animal-Assisted Interventions

by Sara Corsetti 1,†, Miriam Ferrara 2,† and Eugenia Natoli 3,*
1
School of Animal Biology, The University of Western Australia, Crawley, Western Australia 6009, Australia
2
Cooperativa Sociale Le Mille e Una Notte, Rome 00141, Italy
3
Canile Sovrazonale, ASL Roma 3, Rome 00148, Italy
*
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
These authors contributed equally to this work.
Animals 2019, 9(10), 833; https://doi.org/10.3390/ani9100833
Received: 23 August 2019 / Revised: 25 September 2019 / Accepted: 17 October 2019 / Published: 19 October 2019
(This article belongs to the Special Issue The Welfare of Cats and Dogs)
Dogs are widely involved in animal-assisted interventions (AAIs), but little information is available to determine if AAIs are stressful for dogs. Maintaining the animal wellness is ethically crucial and it is decisive for the success of the AAIs. This study wanted to assess if dogs were stressed during the sessions. Nine dogs, belonging to the A.N.U.C.S.S. (the National Association for the Use of Dogs for Social Aims) association, were observed before, during, and after AAIs with patients—who had mental and/or physical disabilities—to underline any signs of stress. Our results suggested that our dogs were not stressed, as the level of anxious behaviour was low and similar in all three kinds of sessions (before, during, and after sessions).
Animal-assisted interventions (AAIs) are co-therapies in which the animal is an integral and active part of the treatment process. Dogs are widely involved in AAI projects, but little data are available to determine if AAI sessions are a source of stress for the dogs. Understanding the emotional state of animals and highlighting any signal of stress is crucial maintaining the wellness of the animals and in enhancing the probability of success of the AAI. The purpose of this study is to assess if dogs present signs of stress during animal assisted therapies sessions. The sample consisted of nine dogs, belonging to the members of the A.N.U.C.S.S. (the National Association for the Use of Dogs for Social Aims) association. Dogs lived with their owners and their health was checked by a vet once a week. Patients involved in the AAI project had disabilities due to mental disorder and/or psychomotor problems. During the therapeutic sessions, patients had to guide the dog along facilitated agility routes and/or perform the activities of cuddling and brushing the dog. When a dog accomplished a task, the patient gave him/her a reward (throwing a ball or a biscuit). Dogs were observed for a total of 174 h, 47 h before, 81 h during, and 46 h after AAI sessions. Each session of observation lasted 10–30 min. The differences of behavioural patterns in the three contexts were analysed by mean of the non-parametric Friedman test. Dogs never showed aggressive and stereotyped behaviour; the level of anxious behaviour was low and similar in all three kinds of sessions. During therapeutic sessions, attention, affiliative behavioural patterns, and sniffing behaviour increased. The highest level of attention of dogs was directed toward their conductor, rather than to the patient and to the other operator present. The results suggest that the amount of work dogs went through was adequate and that dogs did not show behavioural signs of stress. View Full-Text
Keywords: animal-assisted interventions; dog welfare; stress; behaviour animal-assisted interventions; dog welfare; stress; behaviour
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Corsetti, S.; Ferrara, M.; Natoli, E. Evaluating Stress in Dogs Involved in Animal-Assisted Interventions. Animals 2019, 9, 833.

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