Purpose: To evaluate the effects of service dogs on psychosocial health and indicators of wellbeing among individuals with physical disabilities or chronic conditions.Materials and methods: A total of 154 individuals participated in a cross-sectional survey including 97 placed with a mobility or medical service dog and 57 on the waitlist to receive one. Hierarchical regression evaluated the effect of having a service dog on standardized measures of psychosocial health (Pediatric Quality of Life Inventory) as well as anger, companionship, and sleep disturbance (Patient Reported Outcome Measurement Information System). Among those with a service dog, the Monash Dog-Owner Relationship Scale quantified the human-animal bond.Results: Results indicated that compared to those on the waitlist, individuals with a service dog exhibited significantly better psychosocial health including higher social, emotional, and work/school functioning. There was no significant effect of having a service dog on anger, companionship, or sleep disturbance. Among those with a service dog, emotional closeness, dog-owner interaction, and amount of time since the service dog was placed were weak correlates of outcomes.Conclusions: Findings suggest that service dogs may have measurable effects on specific aspects of psychosocial health for individuals with physical disabilities or chronic conditions.Implications for rehabilitationHealth care providers should recognize that in addition to the functional benefits service dogs are trained to provide, they can also provide their handlers with psychosocial benefits from their assistance and companionship.Results indicate that having a service dog was related to better emotional functioning, social functioning, and work/school functioning. Areas with no significant relationship with having a service dog included social companionship, sleep, and anger.Although findings are from a large and representative sample of mobility and medical service dogs, there may be individual differences in how service dogs affect the psychosocial health of their handlers.
Keywords: Animal-assisted intervention; assistance dog; cross-sectional; health-related quality of life; human–animal interaction.