An Examination of the Anxiolytic Effects of Interaction with a Therapy Dog
Abstract (Summary)Animal-assisted therapy (AAT) involves a goal-directed intervention in which an animal is an integral part of the treatment process. The use of AAT is becoming increasingly popular in a variety of fields, including mental health care. Anxiety is one of the primary psychological constructs that has been addressed through the use of AAT in the mental health field. Although there is a wealth of anecdotal information and supposition to support the use of AAT, as well as some research, there remains a lack of methodologically sound empirical research supporting the use of these interventions. The present study explored the use of AAT to address heightened anxiety. This was done through exposing study participants to an anxiety-provoking public speaking task and then exposing them to interaction with 1) a therapy dog/handler team, 2) a friendly person, or 3) no human or animal interaction. All participants completed self-report measures of anxiety before presentation of the public speaking task, after preparing for the task, following a fifteen-minute delay during which the experimental intervention occurred, and following completion of the public speaking task. Interaction with a therapy dog/handler team resulted in significantly lower levels of reported anxiety than interaction with a person or no interaction with a person or animal. There was no difference in reported anxiety levels for interaction with a person compared to no interaction with a person or therapy dog/handler team. Study findings indicate that interaction with a therapy dog is beneficial in decreasing anxiety during stressful situations, and the mere presence of a therapy dog/handler team in the room may be enough to lower anxiety levels. The need for further research is discussed.
School Location:USA - Pennsylvania
Source Type:Master's Thesis
Date of Publication:08/07/2008