The Study of Human-Animal Interactions The CAIRC Scholarship Program Summary of the Past Researches
Summary of the Past Scholarship Research
From "Letter from CAIRC" July 1999
Research Theme: "Does AAA/AAT Put Dogs Under Stress? "

By Yoshiko Uchida and Satoko Yasumoto
Originally, the theme of this research was "On Choosing Dogs Used in Animal-Assisted Therapy." Based on the results of the past year's research, however, it was possible to concentrate the focus of the theme still further. Ms. Uchida, a doctor of veterinary science, is assistant professor of veterinary science at Rakuno Gakuen University. As a member of the Hokkaido Volunteer Dog Association, she also conducts animal-assisted activities at senior citizens' facilities, nursery schools, facilities for the emotionally handicapped, etc. In her research she investigated whether working dogs used in animal-assisted activities (AAA) and animal-assisted therapy (AAT) felt stress in the process. Regarding such dogs, previous research had been conducted on aptitude, but never on whether the dogs underwent stress. Considering that AAA and AAT are likely to continue to become more widely used, this research could be called important from the standpoint of animal protection.

In this research, not only was the behavior of working dogs observed; their stress level was also studied scientifically and objectively. That is, the amount of cortisol in their saliva was measured as an index of acute stress. One reason why the stress level of dogs had not been previously studied was that determining it objectively was considered difficult. Salivary cortisol, however, can easily be obtained without causing the dog any stress. It was thus possible to study stress by a combination of measuring the amount of salivary cortisol before and after activities and observing behavior.

"As examples of behavior indicating stress," said Ms. Uchida, "I might mention panting, urinating or defecating in an inappropriate place, a decrease in concentration, attempting to escape or get to an exit or entrance, abnormal barking, howling or snorting, abnormal excitement, frequent yawning, licking the chops, and excessive self-grooming. In this research, none of the dogs tested showed any of these behaviors as a result of animal-assisted activities. With animal-assisted therapy, on the other hand, there was always a decrease in the ability to concentrate after about 30 minutes. Otherwise, however, there was no stress-related behavior, which, we believe, was largely due to the personality of the test dogs.

"As for the measured values of cortisol, they were normal prior to activities for all the dogs. This was true regardless of the dog's age, experience with the activities, or aptitude test results. It also showed that no stress resulted from moving the dogs by car to the site of the activities. And most of the measured values were also normal following the activities. However, there were two examples of extreme stress as a result of AAA, but the cause of this is believed to be the presence of a female dog in heat in the facilities where the activities took place. In the future we plan to do a follow-up study on these two dogs as well as other working dogs.

"All of the dogs used in this research passed an aptitude test for working dogs. Thus, while it can't be said about all dogs, it can be said about working dogs that AAA and AAT are not a source of stress for them, so that, as regards the animal's welfare, one can take them along on activities with complete peace of mind."