Special Issue "Animal Assisted Therapies and Interventions 2019"

A special issue of Animals (ISSN 2076-2615). This special issue belongs to the section "Companion Animals".

Deadline for manuscript submissions: closed (30 September 2019) | Viewed by 53923

Special Issue Editor

Prof. Dr. Joanne Williams
E-Mail Website
Guest Editor
Clinical and Health Psychology, University of Edinburgh, Medical School, Teviot Place, Edinburgh EH8 9AG, UK
Interests: child and adolescent health and mental health; children’s understandings of mind, body and mental health; developmental disabilities; children’s and adolescents’ interactions with animals
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Special Issue Information

Dear Colleagues,

As the field of human–animal interactions has grown in scale and complexity, there has been rapid growth in animal-assisted therapies and interventions. While animal-assisted intervention practices are increasing, and there is evidence of a range of potential human therapeutic benefits, there remains a lack of clarity regarding the therapeutic or psychological mechanisms involved. These mechanisms may vary with therapeutic processes, the species of animal used, and the nature of the therapeutic alliance achieved. A variety of systematic reviews of animal-assisted interventions has highlighted that methodological challenges have affected the quality of the evidence base and have argued that rigorous methodologies including randomised control trials should be adopted in future research. There is also growth in the terminology used to describe and define animal-assisted therapies, which requires clarification. As animal-assisted interventions are part of the broader field of human–animal interactions, there is a need to ensure that the animals involved also potentially benefit from the interventions, that they experience positive welfare, and that at a minimum their welfare needs are met.

We invite original research papers that address current trends and developments in animal-assisted therapies and interventions. In particular, we welcome papers proposing frameworks for defining and describing animal-assisted intervention practice, evaluation studies that reveal the underlying psychological mechanisms involved in therapies, research on the benefits of animal-assisted therapies for both human and animal participants, and studies investigating animal-assisted interventions with different human populations (including children and adolescents, vulnerable adults and older adult populations). The focus of these papers should be methodologically strong empirical research, but evidence-based guidelines for practice, and systematic reviews and meta-analyses of the literature on animal-assisted therapies, are also encouraged.

Prof. Joanne Williams
Guest Editor

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Keywords

  • Human-animal interactions
  • animal-assisted interventions
  • animal-assisted therapies
  • AAI
  • AAT

Published Papers (19 papers)

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Article
Differences between Female and Male Inmates in Animal Assisted Therapy (AAT) in Austria: Do We Need Treatment Programs Specific to the Needs of Females in AAT?
Animals 2020, 10(2), 244; https://doi.org/10.3390/ani10020244 - 04 Feb 2020
Cited by 3 | Viewed by 2173
Abstract
With the growth of female inmates worldwide, research regarding specific treatment of these has become more important. Although new programs have been started, the lack of scientific results is startling. The goal of the current study was to identify differences between participants from [...] Read more.
With the growth of female inmates worldwide, research regarding specific treatment of these has become more important. Although new programs have been started, the lack of scientific results is startling. The goal of the current study was to identify differences between participants from the men’s and women’s section in a specialized prison for criminal offenders suffering from substance dependence syndrome regarding the effects of dog-assisted group therapy. Therefore, 81 incarcerated participants (50 male, 31 female) took part in a dog-assisted group therapy targeting socio-emotional competencies. Self-report questionnaires to measure self-concept (SDQ-III), emotional status (EMI-B) and emotional competencies (SEE) were employed. Statistical analysis included General Linear Model (GLM) procedures and η2 as concurrent effect size measure. Results demonstrate that participants from the women’s ward tend to benefit significantly less from the dog-assisted group therapy in most measured areas than men, especially in terms of their emotional status (e.g., aggressiveness) and emotional competencies (e.g., emotion regulation). Treatment programs specific to the needs of women might be a future challenge for practitioners and researchers in AAT. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Animal Assisted Therapies and Interventions 2019)
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Article
Examining the Effects of Rabbit-Assisted Interventions in the Classroom Environment
Animals 2020, 10(1), 26; https://doi.org/10.3390/ani10010026 - 20 Dec 2019
Cited by 4 | Viewed by 2491
Abstract
The effect of rabbit-assisted interventions on the anxiety levels of first-grade children at a primary school was analyzed. At the beginning of our research, no rabbit-assisted intervention was applied for 6 weeks in order to establish the level of stress caused by the [...] Read more.
The effect of rabbit-assisted interventions on the anxiety levels of first-grade children at a primary school was analyzed. At the beginning of our research, no rabbit-assisted intervention was applied for 6 weeks in order to establish the level of stress caused by the start of the education period. We then alternated 6-week-long periods with and without rabbit-assisted intervention. The level of anxiety in children was assessed every three weeks both in the assisted and non-assisted periods, using the State–Trait Anxiety Inventory for Children, STAI-C. One of the examined classes did not apply the integrating policy while the other class contained pupils with special education needs (called the integrating class). Rabbit-assisted interventions proved to be efficient, as anxiety level scores were significantly lower during the animal-assisted periods. The rabbits actively initiated encounters with humans, not only in the framework of animal-assisted interventions, but also at other occasions. In cases of discomfort, the rabbit retreated to the cage and stayed inside for a short time. The children displayed signs of pleasure when the rabbits approached them. The favorable effect of animal assistance was more apparent in the integrating class. It could be concluded that rabbit-assisted interventions were suitable for decreasing the anxiety levels of elementary school children, improving the efficacy of the educational ability of teachers. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Animal Assisted Therapies and Interventions 2019)
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Article
Process Evaluation of Animal-Assisted Therapy: Feasibility and Relevance of a Dog-Assisted Therapy Program in Adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder
Animals 2019, 9(12), 1103; https://doi.org/10.3390/ani9121103 - 09 Dec 2019
Cited by 6 | Viewed by 3979
Abstract
(1) Background: Randomized controlled trials (RCTs) are considered the gold standard for evaluating a treatment. However, the results of an RCT may remain meaningless for clinical practice in cases of poor intervention feasibility or fidelity (the extent to which the protocol was executed), [...] Read more.
(1) Background: Randomized controlled trials (RCTs) are considered the gold standard for evaluating a treatment. However, the results of an RCT may remain meaningless for clinical practice in cases of poor intervention feasibility or fidelity (the extent to which the protocol was executed), or when health care professionals or patients experience the intervention as irrelevant or unpleasant. Feasibility and relevance of psychosocial interventions are highly understudied in adults with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). In order to put the effects revealed in an RCT on an animal-assisted therapy (AAT) program in adults with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) into the context of clinical practice and to formulate guidelines for potential improvements and further implementation of the therapy, the aim of this process evaluation was to gain insight into the relevance and feasibility of the intervention and barriers and facilitators to its implementation. (2) Methods: Data were collected from 27 participants with ASD and three therapists using questionnaires, semi-structured interviews, and treatment reports. Reach, adherence, program fidelity, and program appraisal were evaluated, and barriers and facilitators to recruitment and implementation of the AAT program were explored. (3) Results: The participants were satisfied with the program and evaluated it as feasible and relevant for adults with ASD. The participants documented improving self-insight, joy, relaxation, and physical contact with a therapy dog as the reason of their positive appraisal of the therapy. Documented aspects that may influence feasibility and appraised relevance were the participants’ therapy attitude, skills for generalization, and severity of contextual problems (e.g., problems at work, relationship problems). Regarding the sample quality, females and dog owners were slightly over-represented in the RCT. (4) Discussion: Considering the positive evaluation of the intervention and its positive effects revealed in the RCT, the AAT program can be added to the treatment repertoire to reduce stress and improve social communication in adults with ASD. More research in larger samples is needed for better understanding the generalization of the intervention effects, especially in male patients and those who do not have a dog at home. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Animal Assisted Therapies and Interventions 2019)
Article
Bodies of Knowledge, Kinetic Melodies, Rhythms of Relating and Affect Attunement in Vital Spaces for Multi-Species Well-Being: Finding Common Ground in Intimate Human-Canine and Human-Equine Encounters
Animals 2019, 9(11), 934; https://doi.org/10.3390/ani9110934 - 07 Nov 2019
Cited by 1 | Viewed by 3803
Abstract
In this paper, we bring together two separate studies and offer a double similitude as it were, in finding “common ground” and “common worlds” between dog–human and horse–human interactions. Appreciation of the process and mechanism of affect (and affect theory) can enable a [...] Read more.
In this paper, we bring together two separate studies and offer a double similitude as it were, in finding “common ground” and “common worlds” between dog–human and horse–human interactions. Appreciation of the process and mechanism of affect (and affect theory) can enable a greater understanding of child–animal interactions in how they benefit and co-constitute one another in enhancing well-being and flourishing. Studies have thus far fallen short of tapping into this significant aspect of human–animal relationships and the features of human flourishing. There has been a tendency to focus more on related biological and cognitive enhancement (lowering of blood pressure, increase in the “feel good” hormone oxytocin) such as a dog’s mere “presence” in the classroom improving tests of executive function and performance. Study A details an affective methodology to explore the finer nuances of child–dog encounters. By undertaking a sensory and walking ethnography in a North East England Primary School with Year 6 (aged 10 and 11 years) and Year 4 (aged 7 and 8 years) children (60 in total), participant observation enabled rich data to emerge. Study B involves two separate groups of young people aged between 16 and 19 years who were excluded from mainstream education and identified as “vulnerable” due to perceived behavioural, social or emotional difficulties. It used mixed methods to gather and examine data from focus groups, interviews and statistics using the Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale. Photo elicitation was an additional source of information. This equine intervention facilitated vital spaces for social and emotional well-being. The important significance of touch to children’s and young people’s well-being suggests a need for “spaces” in classrooms, and wider society, which open up this possibility further and challenge a “hands-off” pedagogy and professional practice. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Animal Assisted Therapies and Interventions 2019)
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Article
Paws for Thought: A Controlled Study Investigating the Benefits of Interacting with a House-Trained Dog on University Students Mood and Anxiety
Animals 2019, 9(10), 846; https://doi.org/10.3390/ani9100846 - 21 Oct 2019
Cited by 6 | Viewed by 6048
Abstract
University students have been found to have higher rates of psychological distress than that of the general population, which reportedly rises significantly upon starting university and does not return to pre-university levels throughout their time in university. It is therefore highly important to [...] Read more.
University students have been found to have higher rates of psychological distress than that of the general population, which reportedly rises significantly upon starting university and does not return to pre-university levels throughout their time in university. It is therefore highly important to find ways to improve student health and well-being. One way that may help is by interacting with animals. Therefore, the purpose of this study was to determine whether interacting with a dog would have a positive effect on university students’ mood and anxiety. This study assigned 82 university students to either the experimental condition (dog interaction, n = 41) or to the control condition (dog video, n = 41). The students completed the Positive and Negative Affect Schedule-Expanded Form (PANAS-X), State-Trait Anxiety Inventory (STAI) and the Pet Attitude Scale before their assigned conditions, to evaluate their mood and anxiety levels and attitudes to animals. The participants again completed the STAI and PANAS-X Form after their condition, to assess for possible changes in anxiety and mood. The findings of the study indicated that all participants, regardless of condition, experienced a reduction in their anxiety and an improvement in their mood across time. However, directly interacting with a dog resulted in greater declines in anxiety and improved mood scores, more so than watching a video. Consequently, it appears there are psychological benefits to be gained by students from interacting with dogs and it is hoped this study will help to inform future best practices in designing student dog interventions. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Animal Assisted Therapies and Interventions 2019)
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Article
Photo-Elicited Conversations about Therapy Dogs as a Tool for Engagement and Communication in Dementia Care: A Case Study
Animals 2019, 9(10), 820; https://doi.org/10.3390/ani9100820 - 17 Oct 2019
Cited by 1 | Viewed by 1924
Abstract
Understanding the inner life of people with dementia can be challenging and there is a need for new and different approaches. Previous research shows that people with dementia can experience emotions such as harmony, closeness, and joy as well as sadness and concern [...] Read more.
Understanding the inner life of people with dementia can be challenging and there is a need for new and different approaches. Previous research shows that people with dementia can experience emotions such as harmony, closeness, and joy as well as sadness and concern when interacting with a therapy dog. Simultaneously, memories of past episodes are brought back to life when the person interacts with the dog. This raises questions about whether photos of interaction with a dog can evoke memories or support people with dementia in communicating emotions in a corresponding way. The aim of this study was to explore photo-elicited conversations as a tool for engagement and communication in dementia care. Repeated video observations of photo-elicited conversations between a woman with dementia and a dog handler/assistant nurse were used to collect data. The video recordings were analyzed with a phenomenological hermeneutical method. The role of photo-elicited conversations as a tool for engagement and communication in dementia care is that the conversations can help the person with dementia to feel a sense of being situated and recall feelings of liveliness and belongingness, and thus supporting the person’s sense of self. The results can be used to deepen nursing staff’s understanding of using photo-elicited conversations in dementia care. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Animal Assisted Therapies and Interventions 2019)
Article
Verbal Interactional Synchronization between Therapist and Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder during Dolphin Assisted Therapy: Five Case Studies
Animals 2019, 9(10), 716; https://doi.org/10.3390/ani9100716 - 24 Sep 2019
Cited by 7 | Viewed by 2369
Abstract
Synchronizing behaviors in interactions, such as during turn-taking, are often impaired in children with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Therapies that focus on turn-taking generally lead to increased social skills, less interruptions, and silent pauses, however a positive non-demanding environment is therefore thought to be [...] Read more.
Synchronizing behaviors in interactions, such as during turn-taking, are often impaired in children with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Therapies that focus on turn-taking generally lead to increased social skills, less interruptions, and silent pauses, however a positive non-demanding environment is therefore thought to be beneficial. Such an environment can be achieved by incorporating animals into therapy. Our study was guided by the following research questions: (1) How can we characterize the interaction between child and therapist during dolphin-assisted therapy, with regard to synchrony in verbalizations (turn-taking) and (2) does synchrony change over the course of six sessions of therapy? To answer these questions, we performed a cross-recurrence quantification analysis on behavioral data of five children, to give a detailed view of the interaction between therapist and child in the context of dolphin-assisted therapy. We were able to detect synchrony (i.e., adequate turn-taking) in all dyads, although not all children improved equally. The differences might be explained by a delayed reaction time of some children, and their level of language development. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Animal Assisted Therapies and Interventions 2019)
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Article
Evaluating Animal-Assisted Interventions: An Empirical Illustration of Differences between Outcome Measures
Animals 2019, 9(9), 645; https://doi.org/10.3390/ani9090645 - 03 Sep 2019
Cited by 5 | Viewed by 2502
Abstract
Multiple authors have called for strong empirical evaluations to strengthen the foundation of Animal-Assisted Interventions. Carefully choosing the outcome measures of these studies is important, as choosing the wrong outcomes may lead to a failure to detect effects. The current study therefore compares [...] Read more.
Multiple authors have called for strong empirical evaluations to strengthen the foundation of Animal-Assisted Interventions. Carefully choosing the outcome measures of these studies is important, as choosing the wrong outcomes may lead to a failure to detect effects. The current study therefore compares and contrasts the use of several outcome measures, to assess the effect of an equine-assisted intervention for a child with Autism Spectrum Disorder: (1) a semi-structured interview with both parents, specifically designed for children with cognitive disabilities, (2) a general screening instrument filled out by both parents separately, which can be used to assess children’s psycho-social problems, and (3) systematic observations of social and communication skills during the equine-assisted sessions. All instruments indicated an improvement in the participant’s social and communication skills. We found differences between the interview and questionnaires with regard to parents’ perception of aggression regulation and interacting with peers. Differences with regard to parental reports and observations were found for play development and anxiety. The observations provided a detailed view of the child’s development during the intervention, which yielded an interesting hypothesis in terms of the current dose–response discussion in AAI for children with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Animal Assisted Therapies and Interventions 2019)
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Article
Changes of Oxytocin and Serotonin Values in Dialysis Patients after Animal Assisted Activities (AAAs) with a Dog—A Preliminary Study
Animals 2019, 9(8), 526; https://doi.org/10.3390/ani9080526 - 03 Aug 2019
Cited by 16 | Viewed by 3438
Abstract
Our study aimed to measure the levels of serotonin and oxytocin in patients affected by end-stage renal disease (ESRD), undergoing dialysis and participating in a program of animal-assisted activities (AAAs) with a dog. Ten patients with comparable levels of ESRD were enrolled. A [...] Read more.
Our study aimed to measure the levels of serotonin and oxytocin in patients affected by end-stage renal disease (ESRD), undergoing dialysis and participating in a program of animal-assisted activities (AAAs) with a dog. Ten patients with comparable levels of ESRD were enrolled. A blood sample was taken before the start of the study in order to establish basal levels. Eleven meetings were held once a week for 3 months during the last hour of dialysis, and blood samples were collected before and after AAAs. Two more meetings, one month apart from each other, were held two months later without the dog but with the same veterinarian zootherapist. Blood was drawn at the beginning and at the end of each meeting. The samples were then processed for the measurement of serotonin and oxytocin, and data obtained were analysed using analysis of variance with mixed effect models. The results show an increasing level of both serotonin and oxytocin between subsequent meetings with the dog and an increasing trend of inter-intervention levels. Overall, the results suggest that AAAs lead to modifications of serotonin and oxytocin levels, which are also accompanied by behavioural changes of patients. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Animal Assisted Therapies and Interventions 2019)
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Article
Do Animals Perceive Human Developmental Disabilities? Guinea Pigs’ Behaviour with Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders and Children with Typical Development. A Pilot Study
Animals 2019, 9(8), 522; https://doi.org/10.3390/ani9080522 - 02 Aug 2019
Cited by 4 | Viewed by 2750
Abstract
Some cues used by humans and animals during human-animal interactions may have significant effects, modulating these interactions (e.g., gaze direction, heart rate). This study aimed to determine whether an animal in human-animal interactions is capable of “perceiving” its human partner’s potential developmental “disabilities”. [...] Read more.
Some cues used by humans and animals during human-animal interactions may have significant effects, modulating these interactions (e.g., gaze direction, heart rate). This study aimed to determine whether an animal in human-animal interactions is capable of “perceiving” its human partner’s potential developmental “disabilities”. To test this hypothesis, we studied guinea pigs (GP) behaviours in the presence of 44 6-to-12-year-old children with either typical development (TD children) or with autism spectrum disorders (ASD children). Thus, we recorded the GP behaviours during the entire session (to establish their time budget) and focused in particular on the onset and end of physical interactions. The GP behaviours (e.g., feeding, resting, self-grooming, exploring) were not significantly different between the two groups of children during the whole session. GP behaviours in the presence of children differed slightly when encountering ASD children versus TD children: more positive behaviours toward ASD children at the onset, more feeding and resting in the presence of TD children toward the end of an interaction. TD children showed longer-lasting interactions. One could explain this by GP curiosity toward ASD children behaviours (e.g., no marked behaviours such as attempts to touch), whereas GPs seemed calmer at the end with TD children (i.e., interacting with ASD children may be a little stressful). This partly gave support to our study’s hypothesis. GPs seemed to perceive developmental disabilities during a first encounter with children and to adjust their behaviours to that of children. We discuss the issues of animal training, animals’ well-being and acute stress, whether they are pets or used in animal-assisted interventions. Further studies (on pets or animal-assisted interventions) are warranted. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Animal Assisted Therapies and Interventions 2019)
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Article
Dog-Assisted Therapy and Dental Anxiety: A Pilot Study
Animals 2019, 9(8), 512; https://doi.org/10.3390/ani9080512 - 31 Jul 2019
Cited by 9 | Viewed by 2452
Abstract
Animal-assisted therapy aimed at improving individuals’ mental or physical health has been widely reported. However, the data on how a therapy dog could help control anxiety during dental procedures is scarce. The objective of this work was to evaluate the effect of dog-assisted [...] Read more.
Animal-assisted therapy aimed at improving individuals’ mental or physical health has been widely reported. However, the data on how a therapy dog could help control anxiety during dental procedures is scarce. The objective of this work was to evaluate the effect of dog-assisted therapy on people with a history of dental anxiety while receiving preventive dental treatment. Twelve adults participated (women: n = 11 (91.7%) and men: n = 1 (8.3%), mean age = 31.25 years, D.E. = 5.78). The Corah Dental Anxiety Scale was applied, the patient’s mood was assessed with a Likert scale before and after receiving the dental treatment, and their blood pressure was recorded for each of the three stages of treatment. A therapy dog accompanied the participants during the dental procedure. The main results indicated that a decrease in discomfort was perceived during the intervention, and there was also an improvement in the patient’s evaluation of the experience. The results are based on the decrease in patients’ blood pressure when taken in the middle of the dental treatment. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Animal Assisted Therapies and Interventions 2019)
Article
Effect of a Canine-Assisted Read Aloud Intervention on Reading Ability and Physiological Response: A Pilot Study
Animals 2019, 9(8), 474; https://doi.org/10.3390/ani9080474 - 24 Jul 2019
Cited by 5 | Viewed by 1722
Abstract
The aim of this study was to determine whether there is an increase in the reading fluency and accuracy of three lower performing third-graders after participating in a canine-assisted read-aloud program, as well as an increase in the relaxation level during and after [...] Read more.
The aim of this study was to determine whether there is an increase in the reading fluency and accuracy of three lower performing third-graders after participating in a canine-assisted read-aloud program, as well as an increase in the relaxation level during and after the program. This study employed a pre-test-post-test design to test the hypotheses that gains would be made in both reading fluency and reading accuracy upon completion of the program. The three grade 3 students were assessed by the Chinese Character Reading Test and the Reading Fluency Test. During the intervention, they read to a trained canine in the presence of a handler. Three days after the completion of the seven 20-min interventions, the participants were assessed by the two standardized reading tests a second time. Heart rate variability (HRV) responses to the pre-test, the intervention and the post-test were recorded. The three grade 3 students attained a higher level of relaxation while reading to the dog and increased their reading fluency after the reading sessions. These results provided preliminary evidence that the canine-assisted read-aloud program can increase the reading performance of children with lower performance. Implications for future research and reading programs will be discussed. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Animal Assisted Therapies and Interventions 2019)
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Article
Perceptions on Health Benefits of Guide Dog Ownership in an Austrian Population of Blind People with and without a Guide Dog
Animals 2019, 9(7), 428; https://doi.org/10.3390/ani9070428 - 07 Jul 2019
Cited by 7 | Viewed by 3079
Abstract
Blindness has previously been associated with impaired quality of life (QOL). Guide dogs may not only support blind people in their independency, but also facilitate social relationships and overall health. This study sought to investigate whether blind people from Austria with a guide [...] Read more.
Blindness has previously been associated with impaired quality of life (QOL). Guide dogs may not only support blind people in their independency, but also facilitate social relationships and overall health. This study sought to investigate whether blind people from Austria with a guide dog, when compared with blind people without a guide dog, differ in their QOL, annual medical costs, and attitudes towards the human–guide dog relationship. Participants (n = 36) filled out an online accessible questionnaire that consisted of the World Health Organization (WHO)QOL-BREF and additional self-designed questions. Guide dog ownership was not associated with a better QOL. However, yearly medical cost expenditures were descriptively lower in guide dog owners, who were also more likely to believe that guide dogs can increase their independency and exert positive effects on health. Moreover, guide dog owners more likely considered a guide dog as a family member than non-guide dog owners. Although within the framework of this study, owning a guide dog was not significantly associated with increased QOL, some differences between the groups regarding health beliefs, attitude towards the dog, and relationship with the dog were identified. Accounting for the emerging prevalence of visual impairment, further research into this topic is warranted. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Animal Assisted Therapies and Interventions 2019)
Article
The Impact of Equine-Assisted Therapy on Equine Behavioral and Physiological Responses
Animals 2019, 9(7), 409; https://doi.org/10.3390/ani9070409 - 01 Jul 2019
Cited by 10 | Viewed by 3576
Abstract
Equine-assisted therapies (EATs) have been widely used in the treatment of patients with mental or physical conditions. However, studies on the influence of equine-assisted therapy (EAT) on equine welfare are very recent, and the need for further research is often highlighted. The aim [...] Read more.
Equine-assisted therapies (EATs) have been widely used in the treatment of patients with mental or physical conditions. However, studies on the influence of equine-assisted therapy (EAT) on equine welfare are very recent, and the need for further research is often highlighted. The aim of this study was to investigate whether EAT creates negative or positive emotions in horses, and the influence of patients’ expectations (one group of patients had physical and psychological expectations and one group of patients had only psychological expectations) on horses’ emotional responses. Fifty-eight pairs (patient–horse) were involved in this study. Behaviors and heart rate variability (HRV) data were collected during a resting phase, a preparation phase in which the patients brushed and saddled the horse, and a working phase. Behaviors and HRV were compared between phases and among the groups of patients. Our results suggested that the EAT in this study was neither a negative nor a positive event. EATs with patients who had both physical and psychological expectations were more challenging for horses than those with patients who had only psychological expectations. Further research should focus on providing horses with positive stimulation and reinforcement to understand whether a positive association with EAT can be achieved. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Animal Assisted Therapies and Interventions 2019)
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Article
Exploring the Handler-Dog Connection within a University-Based Animal-Assisted Activity
Animals 2019, 9(7), 402; https://doi.org/10.3390/ani9070402 - 01 Jul 2019
Cited by 6 | Viewed by 2203
Abstract
There has been an increase in research concerning the quality of dyadic interactions between humans and dogs in university-based animal assisted activities (AAAs). While interactions between students and dogs are commonly an area of focus, studies examining interactions between handlers and their dogs [...] Read more.
There has been an increase in research concerning the quality of dyadic interactions between humans and dogs in university-based animal assisted activities (AAAs). While interactions between students and dogs are commonly an area of focus, studies examining interactions between handlers and their dogs are needed. We coded 10-min long video-recorded observations (N = 151) using a mixed methods approach to capture the duration and frequency of dog-directed handler behavior (i.e., postural state, verbal and physical contact) before and during interactions with student participants in an AAA. Analyses showed a significant decrease in the proportion of time handlers spent petting their dog, and a significant increase in the proportion of time handlers spent sitting on the floor and restraining their dog by the leash in response to student introduction. Two dimensions of handlers’ dog-directed behavior emerged (e.g., warmth, control) revealing distinct handler interaction styles: Hands-off (L Warmth, L Control), permissive (H warmth, L control), authoritative (H Warmth, H Control), and authoritarian (L Warmth, H Control). Handlers’ interaction styles were influenced by student presence, leading some handlers to increase warmth behaviors directed to their dogs, while others decreased such behaviors. Implications for the facilitation of university-based AAAs are discussed. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Animal Assisted Therapies and Interventions 2019)
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Article
An Exploration of the Mechanism of Action of an Equine-Assisted Intervention
Animals 2019, 9(6), 303; https://doi.org/10.3390/ani9060303 - 31 May 2019
Cited by 6 | Viewed by 2891
Abstract
Though long alluded to, there is now an accumulation of evidence of the vital contribution that emotion makes to learning. Within this broad advance in understanding is a growing body of research emphasising the embodied nature of this emotion-based learning. The study presented [...] Read more.
Though long alluded to, there is now an accumulation of evidence of the vital contribution that emotion makes to learning. Within this broad advance in understanding is a growing body of research emphasising the embodied nature of this emotion-based learning. The study presented here is a pilot study using a mixed-method approach (combining both physiological and experiential methodologies) to give a picture of the “emotional landscape” of people’s learning through the intervention under study. This has allowed researchers to examine mediating pathways that may underlie any effects of an equine-assisted intervention. This study specifically focuses on examining the role of emotion. The intervention under study was used with young people with chronic mental health and behavioural problems for whom talk-based interventions were not working. Nine healthy participants aged 18–24 undertook the equine intervention, with an initial group having emotion-related psycho-physiological changes (skin conductance responses) measured while viewing their experience on video, and a further two participants experiencing a development of the methodology as their physiological responses were captured in real time during the intervention. The sessions were analysed by a group of five cross-disciplinary researchers to determine when significant learning episodes occurred, and the findings were that this learning was associated with powerful skin conductance responses. The qualitative element of the research entailed the participants watching themselves on video undertaking the equine intervention. They were asked to stop the video and share any changes in emotion at any point while watching. All participants experienced a positive temporal change in mood as the intervention progressed. All results supported the findings that emotional arousal occurred in relation to the participants asking the horse to perform a task. This paper will offer two novel contributions: (1) description of a new methodology for investigating the mechanism of action occurring in this type of intervention and (2) findings from the exploration of the intervention via psycho-physiological and experiential mechanisms. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Animal Assisted Therapies and Interventions 2019)
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Article
Beyond the Benefits of Assistance Dogs: Exploring Challenges Experienced by First-Time Handlers
Animals 2019, 9(5), 203; https://doi.org/10.3390/ani9050203 - 29 Apr 2019
Cited by 7 | Viewed by 2909
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 [...] Read more.
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. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Animal Assisted Therapies and Interventions 2019)

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Erratum
Erratum: Gravrok, J., et al. Beyond the Benefits of Assistance Dogs: Exploring Challenges Experienced by First-Time Handlers. Animals 2019, 9, 203
Animals 2021, 11(1), 237; https://doi.org/10.3390/ani11010237 - 19 Jan 2021
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Abstract
The authors wish to make the following corrections [1]:In Table 1, under case study 4, the code was originally labeled as H8, P8 and ADI 8; these labels should be H4, P4 and ADI 4, respectively [...] Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Animal Assisted Therapies and Interventions 2019)
Commentary
Considerations for the Retirement of Therapy Animals
Animals 2019, 9(12), 1100; https://doi.org/10.3390/ani9121100 - 09 Dec 2019
Cited by 6 | Viewed by 1668
Abstract
With the growth of animal-assisted interventions, the number of animals designated to work as therapy animals continues to increase. These animals participate in this work in varying capacities during life, but there will be a point in time when the animal can no [...] Read more.
With the growth of animal-assisted interventions, the number of animals designated to work as therapy animals continues to increase. These animals participate in this work in varying capacities during life, but there will be a point in time when the animal can no longer engage in these activities. The concept of retirement, or withdrawing the animal from its working life, is an important phase of life that every therapy animal will inevitably face. Retirement is typically regarded as a well-deserved reward earned after a lifetime of work, but this termination of an animal’s career has potential positive and negative implications for animal, handler, and human participants in these interventions. The question of precisely when and how to appropriately retire an animal is usually answered at the discretion of the handler; however, the validity of this question remains largely unanswered without scientific evidence. The purpose of this review is to describe the implications of therapy animal retirement for the handler, participant, and animal and to discuss the challenges in determining when to retire a therapy animal. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Animal Assisted Therapies and Interventions 2019)
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