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The effect of dog-human interaction on cortisol and behavior in registered animal-assisted activity dogs

By Z. Y. Ng, B. J. Pierce, C. M. Otto, V. A. Buechner-Maxwell, C. Siracusa, S. R. Werre

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The effect of animal-assisted activities (AAA) on the animal participants has been minimally investigated, and the welfare of these animals has been questioned. To enhance our understanding of these animals' welfare, we measured cortisol collected from serial saliva samples of 15 healthy adult dogs registered with an AAA organization. We collected saliva every 30 min before, during, and after a standardized 60-min session across three settings: an AAA session (activity) for college students in the communal area of a residence hall, a novel session located in a novel room without interaction with a stranger, and a home session inside each handler's own home. Each session was videotaped, and specific behaviors during 5-min petting interactions were coded. Salivary cortisol levels were significantly higher in the novel setting (0.397 g/dL) compared to activity (0.257 g/dL) and home (0.213 g/dL) settings at time 30 min ( P=0.01 and P=0.03, respectively). Dogs exhibited significantly more standing (59% vs 0%, P=0.008) and ambulating (5.6% vs 0%, P=0.001) behavior in the activity setting compared to the home at time 30 min, as well. Salivary cortisol level was negatively correlated with panting ( P=0.02) and standing ( P=0.02) at specific time points in the novel and activity settings, respectively. During the 60-min AAA session, salivary cortisol concentration and stress-associated behavior were not statistically different compared to when dogs spent the same amount of time in the home setting, suggesting that they were not distressed when participating in the AAA sessions. The predictability of the environment may be an important consideration when evaluating the effect of AAA on dogs.

Date 2014
Publication Title Applied Animal Behaviour Science
Volume 159
Pages 69-81
ISBN/ISSN 0168-1591
Publisher Elsevier
DOI 10.1016/j.applanim.2014.07.009
Language English
Author Address Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine, Duck Pond Drive, Mail Code 0442, Blacksburg, VA 24061,
Additional Language English
Cite this work

Researchers should cite this work as follows:

  1. Animal behavior
  2. Animal health and hygiene
  3. Animals
  4. Animal welfare
  5. Canidae
  6. Canine
  7. Carnivores
  8. Dogs
  9. Effect
  10. Hydrocortisone
  11. Interactions
  12. Mammals
  13. open access
  14. Pets and companion animals
  15. saliva
  16. students
  17. vertebrates
  1. open access