Murray State University

Poster Title

Effects of Pet Therapy on the Stress Level of Therapy Dogs and First-Year Female Undergraduates: STUDY 2 (Whitewood): Effects of Pet Therapy on the Stress Level of Therapy Dogs

Institution

Murray State University

Abstract

There are numerous studies that show positive effects of animal-assisted therapy (AAT) on humans, although little is known about the effects that AAT has on therapy animals themselves. The objective of my research was to determine the effect of human interactions with therapy dogs on the dogs’ stress level. My null hypothesis was that AAT has no effect on the stress level of therapy dogs. In order to accurately measure the stress that a therapy dog may experience while doing a therapy session, I measured the level of salivary cortisol present before and after nine certified dogs were engaged in a 15-minute therapy session with 2-4 persons, as well as their heart rate and respiration rate. None of the physiological measures of the dogs before they engaged in a therapy session differed significantly from the same measures made after the therapy session. From these results, we concluded that therapy dogs did not experience a change in stress. While interactions with humans had no adverse effects on the stress level of the dogs; the dogs also did not exhibit measurable benefits of the interactions. The results suggested that beneficial effects of AAT on human stress are not reciprocated to the therapy dogs involved. Alternatively, because therapy dogs are trained to interact with humans they may have low levels of stress that are maintained during therapy sessions. Further research is needed to determine the effects of AAT on dogs engaged in longer therapy sessions (e.g., 1 hour) that more closely match the actual work periods experienced by most therapy dogs.

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Effects of Pet Therapy on the Stress Level of Therapy Dogs and First-Year Female Undergraduates: STUDY 2 (Whitewood): Effects of Pet Therapy on the Stress Level of Therapy Dogs

There are numerous studies that show positive effects of animal-assisted therapy (AAT) on humans, although little is known about the effects that AAT has on therapy animals themselves. The objective of my research was to determine the effect of human interactions with therapy dogs on the dogs’ stress level. My null hypothesis was that AAT has no effect on the stress level of therapy dogs. In order to accurately measure the stress that a therapy dog may experience while doing a therapy session, I measured the level of salivary cortisol present before and after nine certified dogs were engaged in a 15-minute therapy session with 2-4 persons, as well as their heart rate and respiration rate. None of the physiological measures of the dogs before they engaged in a therapy session differed significantly from the same measures made after the therapy session. From these results, we concluded that therapy dogs did not experience a change in stress. While interactions with humans had no adverse effects on the stress level of the dogs; the dogs also did not exhibit measurable benefits of the interactions. The results suggested that beneficial effects of AAT on human stress are not reciprocated to the therapy dogs involved. Alternatively, because therapy dogs are trained to interact with humans they may have low levels of stress that are maintained during therapy sessions. Further research is needed to determine the effects of AAT on dogs engaged in longer therapy sessions (e.g., 1 hour) that more closely match the actual work periods experienced by most therapy dogs.