Association for Behavior Analysis International

The Association for Behavior Analysis International® (ABAI) is a nonprofit membership organization with the mission to contribute to the well-being of society by developing, enhancing, and supporting the growth and vitality of the science of behavior analysis through research, education, and practice.


44th Annual Convention; San Diego, CA; 2018

Event Details

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Symposium #231
Integrating Human-Animal Interactions into Behavior Analysis
Sunday, May 27, 2018
10:00 AM–11:50 AM
Marriott Marquis, Marina Ballroom D
Area: AAB/AUT; Domain: Applied Research
Chair: Alexandra Protopopova (Texas Tech University)
Discussant: Susan G. Friedman (Utah State University)

With the rapid expansion of interventions integrating therapy dogs into behavioral and educational programs with children in recent years, research into these interventions has not caught up. This symposium will cover human-animal interactions from both the child and the dog perspective. Three talks will present research on the impact of animal-assisted interventions on children and one on therapy dogs' welfare and perceptions of these programs. Discussions will include strategies of integrating human-animal interaction research into the principles of behavior analysis.

Instruction Level: Basic
Keyword(s): animal-assisted, children, therapy dog

Effectiveness of Animal-Assisted Social Skills Interventions for Children With Autism Spectrum Disorder

COURTNEY JORGENSON (University of Missouri), Casey J. Clay (University of Missouri), SungWoo Kahng (University of Missouri)

The use of Animal-Assisted Interventions (AAI) with individuals with developmental disabilities is becoming increasingly popular and often targets social skill deficits, one of the main concerns associated with a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder (ASD). To date, there is little evidence to support the use of AAI to improve social skills for children with ASD. The purpose of this study was to critically evaluate AAI using a therapy dog to increase social skills in young children with ASD. Participants were ages 3-8 years, diagnosed with ASD, and able to speak in short sentences. Alternating treatments and reversal designs were used to compare conditions in which (1) a therapy dog was not present, (2) access to a therapy dog was noncontingent, (3) access to a therapy dog was contingent on interacting with a therapist, and (4) access to another preferred item was contingent on interacting with a therapist. Results varied across participants. While contingent access to the therapy dog did increase social interactions for some participants, it was the most effective intervention for only one participant. These results have important implications for the field. Practitioners should be aware that some clients may be better-suited for AAI than others.


A Comparison of Three Methods of Integrating Therapy Dogs Into ABA-Based Educational Sessions for Children With Autism Spectrum Disorder

KIRSTEN LEATHERWOOD (Texas Tech University), Alexandra Protopopova (Texas Tech University), Megan Elizabeth Arant (Texas Tech University), Breanna Harris (Texas Tech University), Jeanne M. Donaldson (Louisiana State University)

Previous research has shown that therapy dogs may function as reinforcers for some children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD); however notable limitations in the original study design warranted a partial replication and extension of the results. In Experiment 1 we measured changes in the rate of responding correctly to educational tasks across five conditions in a multielement design with five children with ASD. The conditions were contingent praise (negative control), contingent leisure item (positive control), contingent therapy dog, noncontingent therapy dog, and a combined contingent leisure item and noncontingent therapy dog. We assessed preference for items/dog before and after the experiment as well as preference for conditions at the end of the experiment. Saliva samples were collected from each child before and after every session for determination of cortisol concentration. Experiment 1 did not reveal clear trends as data for most participants were not differentiated across conditions. In Experiment 2, we used a reversal design with six children to ease discrimination of conditions and to clarify whether the combined experimental condition can produce higher or equivalent responding as the contingent leisure condition.


Therapy Dog Welfare: Stress and Avoidance Behavior of Therapy Dogs During Sessions

MEGAN ELIZABETH ARANT (Texas Tech University), Alexandra Protopopova (Texas Tech University)

With the growing practice of incorporating dogs into therapy settings, understanding how the therapy dogs are affected may be key in providing better welfare. Therapy dogs often undergo situations where they may experience unpredictable interactions; however, it is unclear how dogs perceive interactions. Through three separate experiments, this study aims to observe stress and affiliative behaviors of therapy dogs during successive exposure to the same children with autism spectrum disorder over several months. For the first experiment, nine therapy dog-child dyads (nine children, five dogs) were assessed alongside a study with experimental ABA-type educational sessions. A second experiment added baseline observations to provide further investigation into the stress during session. Experiment three was conducted to determine if children were aversive to the therapy dogs. In general, dogs did not appear to habituate to the children across sessions. Dogs in this study had individual differences and perceive children differently. Touching the dog and poking the dog's face increases stress behavior in dogs. In order to increase the human-animal bond between therapy dogs and the people they impact, recognizing stress and affiliative behavior in therapy dogs may lead to improvements to welfare conditions.


Effect of Pet Dogs on Children's Perceived Stress and Cortisol Response

NATHANIEL HALL (Texas Tech University), Darlene Kertes (University of Florida), Clive Wynne (Arizona State University)

The present study tested whether pet dogs have stress-buffering effects for children during a validated laboratory-based protocol, the Trier Social Stress Test for Children (TSST-C). Participants were 101 children aged 7–12 years with their primary caregivers and pet dogs. Children were randomly assigned in the TSST-C to a pet present condition or one of two comparison conditions: parent present or no support figure present. Baseline, response, and recovery indices of perceived stress and cortisol levels were based on children's self-reported feelings of stress and salivary cortisol. In addition, behavioral sociability of dogs and interactions with children were behaviorally coded. Results indicated that pet dog presence significantly buffered the perceived stress response in comparison to children in the alone and parent present conditions. No main condition effect was observed for cortisol. Further, behavioral sociability scoring of the dogs was also correlated with child reported attachment to the dog, indicating the importance of dog-child interaction.




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