The Effects of Service Dogs on Individuals with Physical Disabilities and Mental Disorders: A Multimethod Examination
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An increasing number of individuals with physical disabilities or mental disorders are incorporating specially trained service dogs as an assistance aid to improve functionality. In addition to the tasks that service dogs are rained for, studies also suggest that service dogs may benefit psychosocial health and wellbeing. However, current knowledge on these potential benefits is limited by methodological weaknesses without multi-method assessment. There remains a need for empirical and replicable quantification the psychosocial outcomes of service dog assistance and companionship.
The objective of Chapters 1-3 was to summarize, evaluate, and quantify the effects of service dogs on psychosocial health among individuals with physical disabilities. Chapter 1 conducted a systematic literature review of N=24 articles describing the effects of guide, hearing, mobility, and medical service dogs on standardized measures of psychosocial functioning. Chapters 2 and 3 conducted an empirical investigation using quantitative and qualitative methods to quantify the psychosocial effects of mobility and medical service dogs among N=154 individuals with physical disabilities. Results identified specific psychological, social, and emotional benefits that are associated with having an assistance dog or service dog among diverse populations with physical disabilities or chronic conditions.
The objective of Chapters 4-6 was to quantify the role of psychiatric service dogs for post-9/11 military veterans with PTSD. Chapter 4 quantified the perceived importance, frequency of use, and therapeutic value of service dog behaviors for N=216 military veterans with PTSD. Chapters 5 and 6 then quantified the effects that PTSD service dogs on psychosocial outcomes and physiological indicators of functioning, respectively, among a sample of N=141 military veterans with PTSD. Results identified therapeutic components, tangible psychosocial benefits, and potential physiological mechanisms of psychiatric service dogs for military veterans with PTSD.Overall, this research combined quantitative, qualitative, and physiological measurement to describe outcomes of service dog pairings in two different at-risk populations. Results provide non-causational evidence of psychosocial benefits from service dogs for individuals with physical disabilities or mental disorders. Findings provide a basis for further large-scale research to disentangle active components of the assistance dog-human partnership and identify potential mediating variables of effects.