Selected OHAIRE Publications - Service Dogs

Systematic Review

O'Haire, M. E., Guérin, N. A., & Kirkham, A. C. (2015). Animal-assisted intervention for trauma: A systematic literature review. Frontiers in Psychology, 6, 1121.

Summary: This paper presents a systematic review of the empirical literature on AAI for trauma, including posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Participants were predominantly survivors of child abuse, in addition to military veterans. The presentation of AAI was highly variable across the studies. The most common animal species were dogs and horses. The most prevalent outcomes were reduced depression, PTSD symptoms, and anxiety. There was a low level of methodological rigor in most studies, indicating the preliminary nature of this area of investigation. We conclude that AAI may provide promise as a complementary treatment option for trauma, but that further research is essential to establish feasibility, efficacy, and manualizable protocols. It is open access and free to the public.

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Standardized Surveys

O'Haire, M. E., & Rodriguez, K. E. (2015). Preliminary efficacy of service dogs as a complementary treatment for posttraumatic stress disorder in military members and veterans. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 1(6), e1-8.

Summary: Military veterans with PTSD are increasingly pursuing complementary treatments, one of which is the provision of a psychiatric service dog specifically trained to perform tasks that are thought to mitigate PTSD symptomology. This publication is a proof-of-concept study assessing the effects of this practice. Participants were post-9/11 military veterans with PTSD recruited from a national service dog provider, K9s for Warriors. The study compared usual care alone (66 veterans on the waitlist to receive a dog) versus usual care plus a trained service dog (75 veterans already placed with a dog). Results found that those with a service dog had clinically significant reductions in PTSD symptoms, but average reductions were not below the cutoff for a diagnosis of PTSD. Compared to the waitlist, those with a service dog also had lower depression, higher quality of life, and higher social functioning. We conclude that while the addition of trained service dogs to usual care may confer clinically meaningful improvements in PTSD symptomology and quality of life for military veterans with PTSD, this practice should remain a complementary, rather than standalone, treatment option in its current format.

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Stress Response (Cortisol)

Rodriguez, K. E., Bryce, C. I., Granger, D. A., & O'Haire, M. E. (2018). The effect of a service dog on salivary cortisol awakening response in a military population with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Psychoneuroendocrinology, 98, 202-210.

Summary: After controlling for other factors, military veterans with a PTSD service dog had higher cortisol awakening response than those on the waitlest. These veterans with a service dog also had significantly less PTSD severity, anger, anxiety, sleep disturbance, and alcohol abuse symptoms than those on the waitlist. These results that PTSD service dogs may be beneficial for military veterans both for their mental health and physiological health.

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Dog Training, Behavior, & the Bond

LaFollette, M. R., Rodriguez, K. E., Ogata, N. & O'Haire, M. E. (2019). Military veterans and their PTSD service dogs: Associations between training methods, PTSD severity, dog behavior, and the human-animal bond. Frontiers in Veterinary Science, 6, 23.

Summary: This publication focuses on training methods, PTSD severity, service dog behavior, and the veteran-service dog bond in a population of military veterans with PTSD. Results found that veterans use many different training types. In general, more frequent reported use of positive punishment (correction-based) training was associated with negative outcomes. Conversely, more frequent reported use of postive reinforcement (reward-based) or bond-based training was associated with reporting more positive outcomes.

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Standardized Surveys

Rodriguez, K. E., Bibbo, J. & O'Haire, M. E. (2020). The effects of service dogs on psychosocial health and wellbeing for individuals with physical disabilities or chronic conditions. Disability and rehabilitation, 42(10), 1350-1358.

Summary: This publication examined the effects of service dogs on psychosocial health and wellbeing indicators among individuals with physical or chronic conditions. Results found that participants with a service dog had better psychosocial health including higher social, emotional, and work/school functioning. Within this population, there were weak correlations on outcomes with emotional closeness, dog-owner interaction, and amount of time with the service dog. This publication shows that the benefits of service dogs can extend beyond their specific trained tasks.

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Qualitative Data

Rodriguez, K. E., Bibbo, J., Verdon, S. & O'Haire, M. E. (2020). Mobility and medical service dogs: a qualitative analysis of expectations and experiences. Disability & Rehabilitation: Assistive Technology, 15(5), 499-509.

Summary: This paper focused on open-ended survey responses about benefits and drawbacks of having a service dog. Both individuals with or on the waitlist to receive a service dog were included. Overall participants identified several physical and psychosocial benefits to service dogs including emotional, quality of life, and social. Participants identified dog car, public access/education, lifestyle changes, and dog behavior as drawbacks. There were some differences with the waitlist such as not anticipating public discrimination. Overall this publication shows that there about both positive and negative aspects to having a service dog.

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Family Member Effects

Bibbo, J., Rodriguez, K. E., & O'Haire, M. E. (2019). Impact of Service Dogs on Family Members’ Psychosocial Functioning. American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 73(3), 7303205120p1-7303205120p11.

Summary: Even though a growing body of evidence supports service dogs’ positive psychosocial impact on individuals with a disability, very little is known about the effect of service dogs on the family members with whom they live. This study aimed to measure the impact that a service dog may have on family member functioning. Results found that compared to those on the waitlist, family members who lived with an individual with a service dog had less health-related worry, better overall psychosocial health and better emotional functioning, and better emotional health-related quality of life. Their families also not only had less total family impact from the service dog recipient's disability, but had better family relationships. These findings provide preliminary evidence that service dogs can have family-wide effects on parents and spouses' psychosocial health as well as family functioning.

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