Becoming Relationally Effective: High-Risk Boys in Animal-Assisted Therapy

Abbey Ann Schneider, Josie Rosenberg, Megan Baker, Nate Melia, Ben Granger, and Zeynep Biringen
Colorado State University, Fort Collins, CO, USA

This study was conducted to formally evaluate the effectiveness of the Human Animal Bond in Colorado (HABIC, 2010), a well-developed animal-assisted therapy (AAT) intervention based in 23 elementary schools in the Front Range. Previous research on the benefits of human and dog relationships, otherwise called the human-animal bond, has provided support for using measures of attachment to rate the quality of connection within this dyad (Kurdek, 2008; Melson, 2003; Triebenbacher, 1998). The Emotional Availability (EA) Scales 4th Edition (Biringen, 2008), an attachment-derived system, were used to objectively evaluate the interactions in the human-animal team, representing the first use of the EA system to assess the quality of the human-animal bond. In addition, the Bonding Scale (Angle, Blumentritt, & Swank, 1994) was used to assess the child’s report of bonding to the dog; the Child Behavior Checklist and the Teacher Report Form (Achenbach, 1991) were used to assess behavior problems; and school records yielded information about attendance and disciplinary referrals. All of the participants in this study were boys considered to be at high-risk for internalizing and externalizing behaviors. Paired-sample t-tests revealed that EA (child-dog and child-adult) significantly increased from pre- to post-test. (Child-adult EA scores apply to the child’s display of EA towards both the adult dog trainer and the school professional on the HABIC team.) In addition, a significant decrease was seen in student disciplinary referrals from pre- to post-test.

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