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'Dog Handlers' and Dogs' Emotional and Cortisol Secretion Responses Associated with Animal-Aassisted Therapy Sessions

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The study investigated 13 dog handlers and 18 companion dogs (Canis familiaris) working as teams in nonhuman animal-assisted service. The handlers described in questionnaires what emotions they chose to associate with their daily life and therapeutic work. They described their emotional condition before and after therapeutic sessions, giving analogous descriptions for their dogs. Handlers collected saliva samples from themselves and their dogs (6 non-therapeutic control days) during 3 months of therapeutic work) to measure cortisol concentrations using an enzyme-immunoassay. Handlers chose different emotions from the questionnaires for themselves and their dogs, differing from the cortisol sampling results. Handlers and dogs had increased cortisol concentrations on therapy days compared to control days. Handlers had significantly higher concentrations immediately before therapeutic sessions. In handlers, cortisol concentrations increased steadily with the duration of sessions; in dogs, with the number of sessions per week. Further study of the effects of recreation periods during therapy work days or of more days scheduled without therapy will help clarify what conditions for delivering animal-assisted service best safeguard the welfare of dog and dog handler teams.

Affiliations: 1: Wageningen UR, Plant Research International B.V., P.O. Box 16, 6700 AA Wageningen, The Netherlands; 2: Department of Anthropology, University of Vienna, Austria


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