Physiological State of Therapy Dogs during Animal-Assisted Activities in an Outpatient Setting

Stephanie D. Clark, François Martin, Ragen T.S. McGowan, Jessica M. Smidt, Rachel Anderson, Lei Wang, Tricia Turpin, Natalie Langenfeld-McCoy, Brent A. Bauer, Arya B. Mohabbat
2020 Animals  
Therapy dogs are increasingly being incorporated into numerous clinical settings. However, there are only a handful of studies that have focused on the impact of animal-assisted activity or therapy sessions on the wellbeing of the therapy dogs. Furthermore, these studies show mixed results. The goal of this study was to provide an in-depth picture of the effects of these interactions on the dogs involved by considering multiple physiological measures known to be associated with emotional state
more » ... th emotional state (continuous heart rate, heart rate variability, pre- and post-session tympanic membrane temperatures, and salivary cortisol and oxytocin concentrations). Nineteen Mayo Clinic Caring Canine therapy dogs completed five 20-minute animal-assisted activity (AAA) visits each in an outpatient clinical setting (Mayo Clinic Fibromyalgia and Chronic Fatigue Clinic). From a physiological perspective, the dogs showed a neutral to positive response to the AAA sessions. Heart rate (HR) was significantly lower at the end of the session compared with the beginning of the session (F = 17.26, df1 = 1, df2 = 29.7, p = 0.0003). The right tympanic membrane temperature was lower post-session (F = 8.87, df1 = 1, df2 = 107, p = 0.003). All other emotional indicators remained stable between pre- and post-session. These results suggest that the dogs involved were not negatively affected by their participation in the AAA. Moreover, there was some evidence suggesting the dogs may have been in a more relaxed state at the end of the session (lower HR and lower right tympanic membrane temperature) compared to the beginning of the session.
doi:10.3390/ani10050819 pmid:32397366 fatcat:efcdmbzkifc3tjsq656srpc7e4