Physiological state of therapy dogs during animal-assisted activities in an outpatient setting

Stephanie D. Clark, François Martin, Ragen T.S. McGowan, Jessica M. Smidt, Rachel Anderson, Lei Wang, Tricia Turpin, Natalie Langenfeld-Mccoy, Brent A. Bauer, Arya B. Mohabbat

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


Therapy dogs are increasingly being incorporated into numerous clinical settings. However, there are only a handful of studies that have focused on the impact of animal-assisted activity or therapy sessions on the wellbeing of the therapy dogs. Furthermore, these studies show mixed results. The goal of this study was to provide an in-depth picture of the effects of these interactions on the dogs involved by considering multiple physiological measures known to be associated with emotional state (continuous heart rate, heart rate variability, pre-and post-session tympanic membrane temperatures, and salivary cortisol and oxytocin concentrations). Nineteen Mayo Clinic Caring Canine therapy dogs completed five 20-minute animal-assisted activity (AAA) visits each in an outpatient clinical setting (Mayo Clinic Fibromyalgia and Chronic Fatigue Clinic). From a physiological perspective, the dogs showed a neutral to positive response to the AAA sessions. Heart rate (HR) was significantly lower at the end of the session compared with the beginning of the session (F = 17.26, df1 = 1, df2 = 29.7, p = 0.0003). The right tympanic membrane temperature was lower post-session (F = 8.87, df1 = 1, df2 = 107, p = 0.003). All other emotional indicators remained stable between pre-and post-session. These results suggest that the dogs involved were not negatively affected by their participation in the AAA. Moreover, there was some evidence suggesting the dogs may have been in a more relaxed state at the end of the session (lower HR and lower right tympanic membrane temperature) compared to the beginning of the session.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number819
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 2020


  • Animal-assisted activity
  • Emotional state
  • Physiology
  • Therapy dogs
  • Wellbeing

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Animal Science and Zoology
  • veterinary(all)


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