I would like to thank everyone who supported or participated in our research study, “Recognition of Canine Emotion by the Psychiatric Service Dog Owner-Handler”. We compared the responses of owner-handlers who worked with either a psychiatric service dog or search and rescue dog as they completed the completed the Animal Empathy Scale evaluation, identified canine affective state via standardized video presentation, and recounted personal observations of their handler-canine relationship. Specifically, we interrogated the role of animal-focused empathy and body language recognition with the ability of the handler to detect emotional states in the psychiatric service dog.
The initial results are below:
A cohort of psychiatric service dog handlers (PsySD, n=23) were compared with a control group of search and rescue dog handlers where the dogs had no emotional service profile as part of their training (SARK9, n=16). In an online survey, participants completed the Animal Empathy Scale evaluation, identified canine affective state via standardized video presentation, and recounted personal observations of their handler-canine relationship. Animal empathy scores for both groups were in line with pet owners based on previous studies (Paul, 2000) suggesting that handlers were generally empathic toward animals. There was no correlation observed between handler empathy and ability to identify canine affective state (r = 0.3767, D.F. = 37, p = 0.709). A greater proportion of SARK9 handlers recognized stress-related body language compared to PsySD handlers although the statistical difference was not significant (c2 = 3.81, D.F = 1, p = 0.051, d = 0.66). There were minimal statistical differences between PsySD and SARK9 handlers in all factors, suggesting that the handler-focused nature of the PsySD emotional service profile did not imply less understanding of dog behavior compared to SARK9 handlers. Our findings suggest detection and interpretation of body language cues associated with subtle affective states posed challenges for both groups of service dog handlers and offer an opportunity for program development to advance welfare considerations and promote success within service dog teams.
A preprint of the full paper is housed on PsyArXiv:
Fisher, C. A., & MacKay, J. R. D., Dr. (2020, November 2). Recognition of Canine Emotion by the Psychiatric Service Dog Owner-Handler. https://doi.org/10.31234/osf.io/6f3uw
As professionals invested in both partners in the handler-service dog relationship, we understand that handler recognition of their partner’s well-being is critical in developing satisfying and effective bonds. Although not directly correlated with animal empathy scores, this study highlights the challenges dog handlers have in detection and interpretation of body language cues associated with subtle emotional states. Given the potential synchronization of long-term stress levels within the canine-human working relationships, we suggest that may be room for further education and coaching with respect to canine communication and the emotional health of the service dog. Recognition of subtle negative affective states promotes canine emotional health and improvement in the overall relationship for both the handler and canine partner.
Please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions about the project or would like to discuss the results in more detail.