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Beyond the Benefits of Assistance Dogs: Exploring Challenges Experienced by First-Time Handlers

1
Anthrozoology Research Group, School of Psychology and Public Health, La Trobe University, Edwards Rd, Flora Hill, VIC 3552, Australia
2
Research Education and Development Team, Graduate Research School, La Trobe University, Edwards Rd, Flora Hill, VIC 3552, Australia
*
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Animals 2019, 9(5), 203; https://doi.org/10.3390/ani9050203
Received: 21 March 2019 / Revised: 15 April 2019 / Accepted: 18 April 2019 / Published: 29 April 2019
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Animal Assisted Therapies and Interventions 2019)
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PDF [206 KB, uploaded 29 April 2019]

Simple Summary

People with disabilities employ many forms of assistive technology, including assistance dogs (AD), to assist them with managing their disability. Most previous research has focused on the benefits of ADs for their handlers with disability; little is known about the challenges they face. The aim of this study was to explore the experiences of first-time handlers when working with an AD. It was found that handlers experienced many benefits from their dog, as would be expected. However, they also reported experiencing many challenges which hindered or delayed these benefits. These challenges arose from the handler’s medical conditions, cognitive ability and social environment, as well as from dog-related factors. They are important for potential handlers and AD organizations to consider prior to placing an AD, since this will assist individuals and organizations to better determine if an AD is the right form of assistive technology for a particular individual, and, if so, how best to prepare to integrate the dog into the person’s life.

Abstract

The purpose of this study was to explore first time handlers’ experiences when working with an assistance dog (AD). Interviewees included seven first time AD handlers and 14 other individuals close to these handlers, including family members, carers and AD instructors. Semi-structured interviews were conducted six months and one year after each handler received their AD. Interview questions were informed by the Thriving Through Relationships theory of social support and previous interviews with the participants. Inductive content analysis corroborated previous findings regarding the benefits that ADs provide. In addition, four factors were revealed to substantially influence the challenges handlers experienced when learning to utilize their dog. These included the handlers’ medical conditions, cognitive ability and social environment, and dog-related factors. Organizations would benefit from considering these factors in their operational processes. View Full-Text
Keywords: service dogs; disability; thriving; assistive technology service dogs; disability; thriving; assistive technology
This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited (CC BY 4.0).
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Gravrok, J.; Bendrups, D.; Howell, T.; Bennett, P. Beyond the Benefits of Assistance Dogs: Exploring Challenges Experienced by First-Time Handlers. Animals 2019, 9, 203.

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