Study: Are Therapy Dogs Under Too Much Stress?

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We already knew that therapy dogs have a positive impact on people and provide immense benefits to patients, but the other side of the relationship remained unexplored- until now. American Humane’s newly released “Canines and Childhood Cancer Study” explores the issue of stress levels in canines that serve as therapy dogs to cancer patients, in order to ensure that animals in these programs are not adversely affected and to help practitioners in the field to maintain the highest standards of animal welfare.

The findings of the study are more than encouraging. Steven Feldman, HABRI Executive Director, says:

“This research project is important because now we have strong evidence that, with proper training and handling, the welfare of therapy animals in hospital settings is not adversely impacted. As more animals are deployed to help hospital patients, we can be confident that the dogs are OK!”

The research, which was funded by The Human Animal Bond Research Institute (HABRI) and Zoetis, is one of the most extensive human-animal bond studies focusing on the impact of animal-assisted interaction on children with cancer and their parents, as well as the participating therapy dogs. The researchers videotaped the therapy sessions and coded the dogs’ behavior using an ethogram developed to capture stress-related behavior. Handlers of the therapy dogs were asked to complete a questionnaire and assess their dog’s behavior before and after the session, to add to the researcher’s conclusions. In addition, the research team collected saliva samples and measured canine stress through salivary cortisol levels.

In the end, all that hard work paid off. We can now rest assured that therapy dogs are not in any way stressed or negatively affected by their sessions with patients, and know that even though they make our lives infinitely better, dogs don’t do it at the expense of their well-being.