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Special Issue "Animal Assisted Interventions and Activities for Health and Wellbeing"

A special issue of International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health (ISSN 1660-4601).

Deadline for manuscript submissions: closed (30 April 2017)

Special Issue Editor

Guest Editor
Dr. Jo Williams

Centre for Applied Developmental Psychology, Clinical and Health Psychology, University of Edinburgh, Doorway 6 Medical School, Teviot Place, Edinburgh, EH8 9AG, UK
Website | E-Mail
Interests: applied developmental psychology; children’s interactions with animals; child and adolescent mental health

Special Issue Information

Dear Colleagues,

Evidence is emerging, from a range of disciplines, on the positive impact of animals on human health and wellbeing. Interactions with animals and ownership of pets have been demonstrated to affect health among adults and the elderly. Research on younger populations is limited and there have been calls for further research to explore how pets influence child and adolescent health and development. Research on the “pet effect” on health is growing but many questions remain unanswered.

Research on animal assisted interventions, therapies and activities has a core role in this research area. While the practice of animal assisted interventions is growing, scientific research is needed to measure the impact on health and wellbeing and to explain the physiological and psychological mechanisms involved. Where research has been systematically reviewed there is evidence of positive effects, but the overall quality of research is often revealed to be weak.

This Special Issue will synthesize the evidence on the impact of animal assisted interventions for health and wellbeing. It will explore the impact of different types of animal assisted interventions, therapies and activities. It will consider the efficacy of animal assisted interventions for different groups, including: children and young people, the elderly, those with learning disabilities, and specific clinical groups. This Special Issue will provide a robust evidence-base to inform future practice and research.

Dr Jo Williams
Guest Editor

Manuscript Submission Information

Manuscripts should be submitted online at www.mdpi.com by registering and logging in to this website. Once you are registered, click here to go to the submission form. Manuscripts can be submitted until the deadline. All papers will be peer-reviewed. Accepted papers will be published continuously in the journal (as soon as accepted) and will be listed together on the special issue website. Research articles, review articles as well as short communications are invited. For planned papers, a title and short abstract (about 100 words) can be sent to the Editorial Office for announcement on this website.

Submitted manuscripts should not have been published previously, nor be under consideration for publication elsewhere (except conference proceedings papers). All manuscripts are thoroughly refereed through a single-blind peer-review process. A guide for authors and other relevant information for submission of manuscripts is available on the Instructions for Authors page. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health is an international peer-reviewed open access monthly journal published by MDPI.

Please visit the Instructions for Authors page before submitting a manuscript. The Article Processing Charge (APC) for publication in this open access journal is 1600 CHF (Swiss Francs). Submitted papers should be well formatted and use good English. Authors may use MDPI's English editing service prior to publication or during author revisions.

Keywords

  • animal assisted interventions
  • pet effect
  • animal assisted therapy
  • animal assisted activities
  • human-animal interactions
  • health
  • wellbeing
  • mental Health
  • disabilities

Published Papers (12 papers)

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Research

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Open AccessFeature PaperArticle “You Think You’re Helping Them, But They’re Helping You Too”: Experiences of Scottish Male Young Offenders Participating in a Dog Training Program
Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2017, 14(8), 945; doi:10.3390/ijerph14080945
Received: 1 June 2017 / Revised: 2 August 2017 / Accepted: 15 August 2017 / Published: 22 August 2017
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Abstract
Interaction with animals can be beneficial to humans and animal-assisted interventions (AAIs) are increasingly popular in a range of contexts. Dog training programs (DTPs) are the most popular form of AAI in custodial contexts; prisoners often have multiple needs and DTPs seem to
[...] Read more.
Interaction with animals can be beneficial to humans and animal-assisted interventions (AAIs) are increasingly popular in a range of contexts. Dog training programs (DTPs) are the most popular form of AAI in custodial contexts; prisoners often have multiple needs and DTPs seem to facilitate a diverse range of positive outcomes, including improvements in well-being, behavior, and offending behavior. However, evidence on the efficacy of prison-based DTPs is still limited and these evaluations often lack detail or methodological rigor. We examined the experiences of male young offenders (N = 70) using thematic analysis of semi-structured interviews conducted following completion of a DTP. The themes that emerged indicated a broad range of inter-related experiences and positive outcomes. The most prevalent theme related to their experiences with Dogs (including feelings and attitudes), and there were perceived improvements categorized as: Positive Effects (including mood and well-being), Motivation, Charitable Purpose, Self-Efficacy, Improved Skills, Impulsivity, and Emotional Management. These themes mapped well onto outcomes previously identified in research on DTPs, and to the program’s core aims of improving behavior, educational engagement, employability, and well-being. The diversity and nature of these themes indicates that DTPs have considerable potential to engage and benefit those individuals with multiple needs, such as young offenders, and ultimately to achieve positive long-term outcomes with significant social, health, and economic impact. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Animal Assisted Interventions and Activities for Health and Wellbeing)
Open AccessArticle The Impact of a Horse Riding Intervention on the Social Functioning of Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder
Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2017, 14(7), 776; doi:10.3390/ijerph14070776
Received: 29 April 2017 / Revised: 29 June 2017 / Accepted: 30 June 2017 / Published: 14 July 2017
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Abstract
This paper reports a case-control study of a horse riding intervention for children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). A sample of 26 children, aged 6 to 9 years, were assigned to either the intervention (n = 12) or control group conditions (
[...] Read more.
This paper reports a case-control study of a horse riding intervention for children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). A sample of 26 children, aged 6 to 9 years, were assigned to either the intervention (n = 12) or control group conditions (n = 14). Pre- and post-tests were carried out using the Childhood Autism Rating Scale, Second Edition (CARS2) and the Aberrant Behaviour Checklist-Community Edition (ABC-C). An observational measure of compliance and behaviour during the horse riding sessions was completed for the intervention group. There was a significant reduction in the severity of ASD symptoms and hyperactivity from pre- to post-test for the intervention group only. These results indicate that the intervention improves some aspects of social functioning for children with ASD. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Animal Assisted Interventions and Activities for Health and Wellbeing)
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Open AccessArticle The Efficacy of Dog Assisted Therapy in Detained Drug Users: A Pilot Study in an Italian Attenuated Custody Institute
Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2017, 14(7), 683; doi:10.3390/ijerph14070683
Received: 28 April 2017 / Revised: 9 June 2017 / Accepted: 20 June 2017 / Published: 24 June 2017
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Abstract
Drug addiction is a major care and safety challenge in prison context. Nowadays, rehabilitation and specific therapeutic programs are suggested to improve health and well-being of inmates during their detention time and to reduce substance abuse relapse after release from prison. Among these
[...] Read more.
Drug addiction is a major care and safety challenge in prison context. Nowadays, rehabilitation and specific therapeutic programs are suggested to improve health and well-being of inmates during their detention time and to reduce substance abuse relapse after release from prison. Among these programs, several studies reported the benefits for inmates coming from animal assisted interventions. In this pilot controlled study, we investigated the efficacy of a dog assisted therapy program addressed to 22 drug addicted male inmates housed in an attenuated custody institute in Italy. The study lasted six months, the treated group (12 inmates) was involved once a week for one hour in 20 dog assisted therapy sessions, whereas the control group (10 inmates) followed the standard rehabilitation program. One week before the beginning and one week after the end of the sessions, all inmates involved were submitted to symptom checklist-90-revised and Kennedy axis V. Inmates involved in the dog assisted therapy sessions significantly improved their social skills, reducing craving, anxiety and depression symptoms compared to the control group. Despite the limitation due to the small number of inmates enrolled and to the absence of follow up, we found these results encouraging to the use of dog assisted therapy as co-therapy in drug addicted inmates rehabilitation programs, and we claim the need of more extensive study on this subject. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Animal Assisted Interventions and Activities for Health and Wellbeing)
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Open AccessArticle Attachment Style Is Related to Quality of Life for Assistance Dog Owners
Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2017, 14(6), 658; doi:10.3390/ijerph14060658
Received: 28 April 2017 / Revised: 30 May 2017 / Accepted: 12 June 2017 / Published: 19 June 2017
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Abstract
Attachment styles have been shown to affect quality of life. Growing interest in the value of companion animals highlights that owning a dog can also affect quality of life, yet little research has explored the role of the attachment bond in affecting the
[...] Read more.
Attachment styles have been shown to affect quality of life. Growing interest in the value of companion animals highlights that owning a dog can also affect quality of life, yet little research has explored the role of the attachment bond in affecting the relationship between dog ownership and quality of life. Given that the impact of dog ownership on quality of life may be greater for assistance dog owners than pet dog owners, we explored how anxious attachment and avoidance attachment styles to an assistance dog affected owner quality of life (n = 73). Regression analysis revealed that higher anxious attachment to the dog predicted enhanced quality of life. It is suggested that the unique, interdependent relationship between an individual and their assistance dog may mean that an anxious attachment style is not necessarily detrimental. Feelings that indicate attachment insecurity in other relationships may reflect more positive aspects of the assistance dog owner relationship, such as the level of support that the dog provides its owner. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Animal Assisted Interventions and Activities for Health and Wellbeing)
Open AccessArticle The Impact of Service Dogs on Engagement in Occupation among Females with Mobility Impairments: A Qualitative Descriptive Study
Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2017, 14(6), 649; doi:10.3390/ijerph14060649
Received: 13 April 2017 / Revised: 25 May 2017 / Accepted: 12 June 2017 / Published: 16 June 2017
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Abstract
It is becoming more common for people with disabilities to procure service dogs as a form of assistive technology (AT). However, there is little qualitative research examining the impact of service dogs on engagement in valued daily activities (occupations) among persons with mobility
[...] Read more.
It is becoming more common for people with disabilities to procure service dogs as a form of assistive technology (AT). However, there is little qualitative research examining the impact of service dogs on engagement in valued daily activities (occupations) among persons with mobility impairments. This study used a qualitative descriptive methodology to learn about the experiences of four female service dog owners with mobility impairments, with a focus on the impact of service dog use on the performance of daily occupations and participation in social activities, and their experiences utilizing a service dog as a form of AT. Data analysis indicated that each participant’s service dog made a significant impact on their everyday lives and their ability to independently perform everyday activities; however, there are also unique challenges associated with service dog ownership that must be considered when evaluating benefits of service dog partnership. Overall, the positive outcomes reported by participants indicate that service dogs can be considered a beneficial, adaptable form of AT for some persons with mobility impairments. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Animal Assisted Interventions and Activities for Health and Wellbeing)
Open AccessArticle Public Perceptions of Service Dogs, Emotional Support Dogs, and Therapy Dogs
Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2017, 14(6), 642; doi:10.3390/ijerph14060642
Received: 5 May 2017 / Revised: 5 June 2017 / Accepted: 12 June 2017 / Published: 15 June 2017
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Abstract
As service dogs, emotional support dogs, and therapy dogs have become more prevalent in the USA, so too has the controversy surrounding their legitimacy. Yet, there is a lack of objective data regarding the public’s understanding of the role played by each of
[...] Read more.
As service dogs, emotional support dogs, and therapy dogs have become more prevalent in the USA, so too has the controversy surrounding their legitimacy. Yet, there is a lack of objective data regarding the public’s understanding of the role played by each of these types of animals, as well as their perceptions regarding the legitimacy of their integration. An anonymous, online survey was distributed to examine the perceptions of US adults who do not own any type of assistance animal. A total of 505 individuals responded to the online survey, yielding 284 usable responses. Results suggest widespread misconceptions about definitions, rules, regulations, and rights associated with each type of assistance dog. In general, service dogs are more likely to be perceived as helping with a legitimate need, and their access to public spaces is viewed favorably. While there are some concerns about the legitimacy and necessary access rights for emotional support dogs, members of the public correctly identified the roles and rights of therapy dogs. Despite the media’s focus on abuses and false representation of these dogs, most participants reported feeling the majority of people are not taking advantage of the system. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Animal Assisted Interventions and Activities for Health and Wellbeing)
Open AccessArticle Childhood Attachment to Pets: Associations between Pet Attachment, Attitudes to Animals, Compassion, and Humane Behaviour
Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2017, 14(5), 490; doi:10.3390/ijerph14050490
Received: 6 March 2017 / Revised: 21 April 2017 / Accepted: 24 April 2017 / Published: 6 May 2017
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Abstract
Attachment to pets has an important role in children’s social, emotional, and cognitive development, mental health, well-being, and quality of life. This study examined associations between childhood attachment to pets and caring and friendship behaviour, compassion, and attitudes towards animals. This study also
[...] Read more.
Attachment to pets has an important role in children’s social, emotional, and cognitive development, mental health, well-being, and quality of life. This study examined associations between childhood attachment to pets and caring and friendship behaviour, compassion, and attitudes towards animals. This study also examined socio-demographic differences, particularly pet ownership and pet type. A self-report survey of over one thousand 7 to 12 year-olds in Scotland, UK, revealed that the majority of children are strongly attached to their pets, but attachment scores differ depending on pet type and child gender. Analysis revealed that attachment to pets is facilitated by compassion and caring and pet-directed friendship behaviours and that attachment to pets significantly predicts positive attitudes towards animals. The findings have implications for the promotion of prosocial and humane behaviour. Encouraging children to participate in pet care behaviour may promote attachment between children and their pet, which in turn may have a range of positive outcomes for both children (such as reduced aggression, better well-being, and quality of life) and pets (such as humane treatment). This study enhances our understanding of childhood pet attachment and has implications for humane education and promoting secure emotional attachments in childhood. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Animal Assisted Interventions and Activities for Health and Wellbeing)
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Open AccessArticle The Effect of Dog-Assisted Intervention on Student Well-Being, Mood, and Anxiety
Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2017, 14(5), 483; doi:10.3390/ijerph14050483
Received: 23 December 2016 / Revised: 14 April 2017 / Accepted: 2 May 2017 / Published: 5 May 2017
Cited by 1 | PDF Full-text (284 KB) | HTML Full-text | XML Full-text
Abstract
This novel, exploratory study investigated the effect of a short, 20 min, dog-assisted intervention on student well-being, mood, and anxiety. One hundred and thirty-two university students were allocated to either an experimental condition or one of two control conditions. Each participant completed the
[...] Read more.
This novel, exploratory study investigated the effect of a short, 20 min, dog-assisted intervention on student well-being, mood, and anxiety. One hundred and thirty-two university students were allocated to either an experimental condition or one of two control conditions. Each participant completed the Warwick–Edinburgh Mental Well-Being Scale (WEMBS), the State Trait Anxiety Scale (STAI), and the UWIST Mood Adjective Checklist (UMACL) both before, and after, the intervention. The participants in the experimental condition interacted with both the dogs and their handlers, whereas the control groups interacted with either the dog only, or the handler only. The analyses revealed a significant difference across conditions for each measure, with those conditions in which a dog was present leading to significant improvements in mood and well-being, as well as a significant reduction in anxiety. Interestingly, the presence of a handler alongside the dog appeared to have a negative, and specific, effect on participant mood, with greater positive shifts in mood being witnessed when participants interacted with the dog alone, than when interacting with both the dog and the handler. These findings show that even a short 20 min session with a therapy dog can be an effective alternative intervention to improve student well-being, anxiety, and mood. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Animal Assisted Interventions and Activities for Health and Wellbeing)
Open AccessArticle Therapeutic Horseback Riding Crossover Effects of Attachment Behaviors with Family Pets in a Sample of Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder
Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2017, 14(3), 256; doi:10.3390/ijerph14030256
Received: 20 January 2017 / Revised: 10 February 2017 / Accepted: 20 February 2017 / Published: 3 March 2017
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Abstract
The unique needs of individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) have implications for animal welfare. This nested pilot study examined the effects of a randomized trial of 10-week therapeutic horseback riding (THR) intervention versus a no-horse barn activity (BA) control group on children’s
[...] Read more.
The unique needs of individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) have implications for animal welfare. This nested pilot study examined the effects of a randomized trial of 10-week therapeutic horseback riding (THR) intervention versus a no-horse barn activity (BA) control group on children’s behaviors with family pets. Sixty-seven (THR n = 31; BA n = 36) participants with ASD (ages 6–16 years) with one or more family pet, were enrolled from a larger trial (n = 116) following their randomization to intervention groups, stratified by nonverbal intellectual ability. A consistent caregiver completed questionnaires about participants’ interactions with their household pets pre- and post-intervention. Caregivers of THR group participants reported significant improvements in participants’ caring actions with the family pet compared with the BA group (p = 0.013; effect size = 0.74). Engaging with horses during a standard THR intervention protocol may generalize to improving caring actions toward family pets in children and adolescents with ASD. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Animal Assisted Interventions and Activities for Health and Wellbeing)

Review

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Open AccessReview Animal-Assisted Interventions in the Classroom—A Systematic Review
Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2017, 14(7), 669; doi:10.3390/ijerph14070669
Received: 25 April 2017 / Revised: 11 June 2017 / Accepted: 14 June 2017 / Published: 22 June 2017
Cited by 1 | PDF Full-text (804 KB) | HTML Full-text | XML Full-text
Abstract
The inclusion of animals in educational practice is becoming increasingly popular, but it is unclear how solid the evidence for this type of intervention is. The aim of this systematic review is to scrutinise the empirical research literature relating to animal-assisted interventions conducted
[...] Read more.
The inclusion of animals in educational practice is becoming increasingly popular, but it is unclear how solid the evidence for this type of intervention is. The aim of this systematic review is to scrutinise the empirical research literature relating to animal-assisted interventions conducted in educational settings. The review included 25 papers; 21 from peer-reviewed journals and 4 obtained using grey literature databases. Most studies reported significant benefits of animal-assisted interventions in the school setting. Despite this, studies vary greatly in methods and design, in intervention types, measures, and sample sizes, and in the length of time exposed to an animal. Furthermore, a worrying lack of reference to risk assessment and animal welfare must be highlighted. Taken together, the results of this review show promising findings and emerging evidence suggestive of potential benefits related to animals in school settings. The review also indicates the need for a larger and more robust evidence base driven by thorough and strict protocols. The review further emphasises the need for safeguarding for all involved—welfare and safety are paramount. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Animal Assisted Interventions and Activities for Health and Wellbeing)
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Open AccessReview Dogs in the Workplace: A Review of the Benefits and Potential Challenges
Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2017, 14(5), 498; doi:10.3390/ijerph14050498
Received: 24 March 2017 / Revised: 12 April 2017 / Accepted: 1 May 2017 / Published: 8 May 2017
PDF Full-text (343 KB) | HTML Full-text | XML Full-text
Abstract
Pet dogs, therapy dogs, and service dogs can be seen in workplaces with increasing frequency. Although dogs may provide many benefits to employees and employers, their presence may introduce additional hazards and concerns to the work environment. Therefore, decisions to accept dogs in
[...] Read more.
Pet dogs, therapy dogs, and service dogs can be seen in workplaces with increasing frequency. Although dogs may provide many benefits to employees and employers, their presence may introduce additional hazards and concerns to the work environment. Therefore, decisions to accept dogs in the workplace may include many considerations including the health, safety, and well-being of employees, legal and cultural sensitivities, and animal welfare. The present paper serves to introduce the issue of dogs in the workplace and outline the potential benefits and challenges to their presence. The legal accommodations afforded to certain types of dogs in workplace settings are discussed, and the research findings pertaining to the potential benefits of dogs on human health and well-being are summarized. The paper concludes with considerations for human resource management personnel in the areas of diversity, employee relations, ethics and corporate responsibility, organizational and employee development, safety and security, and legal considerations, as well as suggested topics for future research. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Animal Assisted Interventions and Activities for Health and Wellbeing)
Open AccessReview Companion Animals and Child/Adolescent Development: A Systematic Review of the Evidence
Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2017, 14(3), 234; doi:10.3390/ijerph14030234
Received: 23 November 2016 / Revised: 16 January 2017 / Accepted: 20 February 2017 / Published: 27 February 2017
Cited by 2 | PDF Full-text (2257 KB) | HTML Full-text | XML Full-text
Abstract
Childhood and adolescence are important developmental phases which influence health and well-being across the life span. Social relationships are fundamental to child and adolescent development; yet studies have been limited to children’s relationships with other humans. This paper provides an evidence review for
[...] Read more.
Childhood and adolescence are important developmental phases which influence health and well-being across the life span. Social relationships are fundamental to child and adolescent development; yet studies have been limited to children’s relationships with other humans. This paper provides an evidence review for the potential associations between pet ownership and emotional; behavioural; cognitive; educational and social developmental outcomes. As the field is in the early stages; a broad set of inclusion criteria was applied. A systematic search of databases and grey literature sources found twenty-two studies meeting selection criteria. The review found evidence for an association between pet ownership and a wide range of emotional health benefits from childhood pet ownership; particularly for self-esteem and loneliness. The findings regarding childhood anxiety and depression were inconclusive. Studies also showed evidence of an association between pet ownership and educational and cognitive benefits; for example, in perspective-taking abilities and intellectual development. Evidence on behavioural development was unclear due to a lack of high quality research. Studies on pet ownership and social development provided evidence for an association with increased social competence; social networks; social interaction and social play behaviour. Overall, pet ownership and the significance of children’s bonds with companion animals have been underexplored; there is a shortage of high quality and longitudinal studies in all outcomes. Prospective studies that control for a wide range of confounders are required. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Animal Assisted Interventions and Activities for Health and Wellbeing)
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