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Salivary cortisol and behavior in therapy dogs during animal-assisted interventions: a pilot study

By L. M. Glenk, O. D. Kothgassner, B. U. Stetina, R. Palme, B. Kepplinger, H. Baran

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Animal-assisted interventions (AAIs) have been associated with positive effects on human psychological and physiological health. Although the perception of quality standards in AAIs is high, only few investigations have focused on potential welfare implications for therapy dogs linked to their performance in AAIs. The standardized program "multiprofessional animal-assisted intervention (MTI)" has been carried out in adult mental health care, significantly improving patients' prosocial behaviors. In the present study, we monitored salivary cortisol and behavioral measures in therapy dogs that participated in MTI group therapy sessions in an in-patient substance abuse treatment facility. Work-related activity (lay, sit, stand, walk, and run), behavior (lip licking, yawning, paw lifting, body shake, tail wagging, and panting), response to human action (taking food treats and obeying commands), and salivary cortisol levels were analyzed over the course of 5 subsequent MTI working sessions in experienced therapy dogs (N=5), aged 5.42.8 years (meanstandard deviation). Salivary cortisol levels decreased from presession to postsession in sessions 1, 2, and 3. However, only in session 4 and 5, postsession cortisol levels were significantly lower than presession levels ( P=0.043). There was no difference between salivary cortisol levels sampled on a nonworking day at home and work-related levels sampled at the therapy site. None of the behavioral parameters varied significantly over the course of the 5 MTI sessions. Both lip licking ( P=0.038) and body shake ( P=0.021) were positively correlated with the decline in cortisol during session 5. The study results suggest that trained dogs are not being stressed by repeated participation in in-patient substance abuse therapy sessions. Further investigation into the effects of animal-assisted therapy on dogs' physiological markers and behavior is warranted.

Publication Title Journal of Veterinary Behavior: Clinical Applications and Research
Volume 9
Issue 3
Pages 98-106
ISBN/ISSN 1558-7878
Language English
Author Address Department of Comparative Medicine, Messerli Research Institute, University of Veterinary Medicine Vienna, Veterinaerplatz 1, 1210 Vienna,
Cite this work

Researchers should cite this work as follows:

  1. Animal behavior
  2. Animal health and hygiene
  3. Animal injuries
  4. Animals
  5. Anthrozoology
  6. Canidae
  7. Canine
  8. Carnivores
  9. Diseases and injuries of animals
  10. Dogs
  11. Effect
  12. Health
  13. Hydrocortisone
  14. Interventions
  15. Mammals
  16. Markers
  17. Mental disorders
  18. peer-reviewed
  19. pet care
  20. Pets and companion animals
  21. quality
  22. Social psychology and social anthropology
  23. standards
  24. Substance dependence
  25. therapy
  26. toxicology
  27. vertebrates
  1. peer-reviewed