What is Human-Animal Interaction?

The core focus of the OHAIRE lab is to evaluate the unique and pervasive interactions between humans and animals through rigorous scientific research.

Learn more about the OHAIRE lab's current research on this topic.

Read the OHAIRE lab's published research on this topic.

Human-Animal Interaction (HAI) is a broad term referring to any manner of relationship or interaction between a person and a non-human animal. Although people have lived alongside animals for thousands of years, research in the field of Human-Animal Interaction is relatively new. Only in the past few decades have researchers began looking at the effects of human relationships with other animals [1]. One component of Human-Animal Interaction is the Human-Animal Bond, which is often defined as a mutually beneficial relationship between people and animals that influences the health and well-being of both. According to some research, interacting with animals may improve our physical [2] and mental health [3], as well as enhance aspects of our daily lives [4]. Likewise, Human-Animal Interaction has shown positive results for some of the animals involved as well, including reduced anxiety and fear [5] and health benefits [6]. However, these findings are not universal and there remains a need for rigorous scientific research to evaluate the outcomes in several areas.

What are some types of Human-Animal Interactions?

Human-Animal Interaction encompasses many relationships that we have with animals including companion animals, emotional support animals, working animals, and any kind of Animal-Assisted Intervention. Animal-Assisted Intervention is an umbrella term for an intervention that purposely incorporates animals into the process. This includes Animal-Assisted Therapy, which is the incorporation of animals as a form of treatment in a goal-directed intervention; Animal-Assisted Activities that are less structured casual enrichment activities with animals to enhance a participant’s quality of life; and Animal-Assisted Education, which are structured activities meant to enhance a participant’s academic or educational abilities [7, 8].
Also categorized under Animal-Assisted Intervention are Service or Assistance Animals, who are trained to perform specific tasks that assist in daily life activities [9]. Service animals differ from therapy animals in that they always accompany the person they assist and have legal protection [10], while therapy animals offer support for one or multiple people and have a handler who is not a participant in the intervention.

Is Human-Animal Interaction always beneficial?

Despite the advantages of human relationships with animals, not all human-animal interactions are positive. Some species or individual animals are not a good fit for close relationships with humans or for participation in Animal-Assisted Intervention. Likewise, some people may find contact with animals unpleasant, or they might be allergic or afraid. Human-Animal Interaction may manifest itself differently across cultures depending on the species of animals present, views towards non-human animals, and cultural perceptions as a whole. Human-Animal Interaction can also be beneficial for one party but not the other, such as in cases where the animal has not been socialized to humans prior to the interaction and feels stressed or scared. Animal abuse or neglect and animal bites should also be considered, as they are detrimental to both the humans and animals involved. Therefore, it is important to acknowledge that all Human-Animal Interactions are not positive and analyzing the outcomes for both humans and the animals participating in these relationships is essential.

At the OHAIRE lab, we look at both the positive and negative aspects of Animal-Assisted Intervention and Human-Animal Interaction to obtain a more comprehensive picture of the unique and pervasive interactions between humans and animals. Our goal is to conduct meaningful, clinically relevant research that enhances the interactions and outcomes for both parties.

Written by Alison C. Kirkham and the OHAIRE Group


  1. McCune, S., et al., Evolution of research into the mutual benefits of human–animal interaction. Animal Frontiers, 2014. 4(3): p. 49-58.
  2. Matchock, R.L., Pet ownership and physical health. Current Opinion in Psychiatry, 2015. 28(5).
  3. Kruger, K.A. and J.A. Serpell, Animal-assisted interventions in mental health: Definitions and theoretical foundations, in Handbook on animal-assisted therapy: Theoretical foundations and guidelines for practice, A.H. Fine, Editor. 2010, Academic Press: San Diego. p. 33-48.
  4. Richards, E.A., et al., Psychosocial and environmental factors associated with dog-walking. International Journal of Health Promotion and Education, 2013. 51(4): p. 198-211.
  5. Cloutier, S., J. Panksepp, and R.C. Newberry, Playful handling by caretakers reduces fear of humans in the laboratory rat. Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 2012. 140(3): p. 161-171.
  6. Gourkow, N., S.C. Hamon, and C.J. Phillips, Effect of gentle stroking and vocalization on behaviour, mucosal immunity and upper respiratory disease in anxious shelter cats. Preventive veterinary medicine, 2014. 117(1): p. 266-275.
  7. Fine, A. and T. Mackintosh, Animal-Assisted Interventions: Entering a Crossroads of Explaining an Instinctive Bond under the Scrutiny of Scientific Inquiry. Encyclopedia of Mental Health, 2015: p. 68.
  8. IAHAIO, The IAHAIO Definitions for Animal-Assisted Intervention and Animal-Assisted Activity and Guidelines for Wellness of Animals Involved. 2014.
  9. Parenti, L.M.A.B., et al., A revised taxonomy of assistance animals. Journal of Rehabilitation Research and Development, 2013. 50(6): p. 745-56.
  10. Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990, Pub. L. No. 101-336, 104 Stat. 328. 1990.

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