Oral Presentation The International Society for Anthrozoology (ISAZ): 27th Annual Conference 2018

Do dogs help people to thrive and are service dogs more beneficial than companion dogs. (#58)

Jennifer Gravrok , Tiffany Howell , Dan Bendrups , Pauleen Bennett 1
  1. LaTrobe University, Flora Hill, VIC, Australia

Companion dogs can provide many psychological and social benefits for their owners. Service dogs reportedly provide similar benefits, in addition to performing the tasks for which they specifically receive training. These additional benefits may increase their handler’s quality of life and possibly their ability to thrive – defined as having the ability to grow and flourish, especially in the face of adversity. Currently, no studies directly compare whether service dogs are more effective than companion dogs in assisting their handler/owner to thrive; an important question given that companion dogs are typically much less expensive to acquire. The Thriving Through Relationships (TTR) theory of social support was used to inform development of a human-dog relationship survey, which was distributed online through service dog organizations and the general public. Participants were divided into three groups: persons with a disability who had a service dog (N=165), persons with a disability who had a companion dog (N=249) and persons with no disability who had a companion dog (N=198). Perceived support during times of adversity was statistically different between the three groups (χ2 (2, n=518)=18.08, p<.001), as was perceived support in time of normalcy (X2 (2, n=518)=28.28, p<.001), with service dog handlers reporting receiving significantly higher support than companion dog owners with or without disabilities (p<.001). In fact, service dogs were reported to provide more support (p<.005) than companion dogs for owners with or without disabilities on eight out of ten separate indicators of thriving. This confirms that, overall, dogs are perceived to provide support that improves their handler/owner’s ability to thrive. Most importantly, however, service dogs provide greater support than companion dogs and, therefore, may be worth the additional time and financial cost associated with their acquisition.