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The psychological and physiological effects of using a therapy dog in mindfulness training

By C. L. Henry, S. L. Crowley

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The present study was a randomized controlled trial examining the psychological and physiological effects of adding animal-assisted therapy (AAT) to a modified Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program (MBSR) for clients experiencing psychological distress. It was hypothesized that AAT would complement mindfulness-based interventions because the therapy dog will provide a focus for attention to the current experience and exemplify acceptance and "being," enabling the understanding and practice of the main aspects of mindfulness. Participants ( n=21) were randomly assigned to an MBSR or MBSR+AAT group and then completed an intervention consisting of six 50-minute individual therapy sessions. Each session included didactic and experiential components modified for delivery with or without a certified therapy dog. State and trait mindfulness, psychological distress measures, blood pressure, and heart rate were assessed at each session. Results indicate that all participants experienced fewer anxiety and depressive symptoms, decreased psychological distress, and increased mindfulness skills from preto post-treatment. Additionally, state anxiety, blood pressure, and heart rate decreased within sessions. No significant difference was found between the control and experimental groups, indicating that interaction with a therapy dog had no impact on symptom reduction, skill acquisition, or client satisfaction in the current study. However, moderate to large effect size estimates indicate clinically significant differences between groups, with higher ratings for the MBSR+AAT group on therapist efficacy, recommending the training, and participating in future treatment. Future studies need to increase methodological rigor by including multiple therapist/dog teams and increasing sample size. Moreover, researchers must more thoroughly examine the role the dog might have in altering the social environment, such as reducing stigma surrounding mental health services and enhancing the therapeutic alliance.

Publication Title Anthrozoos
Volume 28
Issue 3
Pages 385-401
ISBN/ISSN 0892-7936
DOI 10.1080/08927936.2015.1052272
Language English
Author Address Department of Psychology, 2810 Old Main Hill, Utah State University, Logan, UT 84322,
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Researchers should cite this work as follows:

  1. Animal behavior
  2. Animal physiology
  3. Animals
  4. Anthrozoology
  5. Blood Pressure
  6. Canidae
  7. Canine
  8. Carnivores
  9. Depression
  10. Dogs
  11. Effect
  12. Health
  13. Health services
  14. Heart
  15. Heart rate
  16. Hemodynamics
  17. Humans
  18. Interventions
  19. Mammals
  20. Men
  21. Mental disorders
  22. peer-reviewed
  23. physiology
  24. Primates
  25. Research
  26. researchers
  27. samples
  28. Social Environments
  29. Symptoms
  30. therapy
  31. training
  32. vertebrates
  1. peer-reviewed