Encyclopedia of Animal Cognition and Behavior

Living Edition
| Editors: Jennifer Vonk, Todd Shackelford

Animal-Assisted Intervention

  • Elise R. ThayerEmail author
  • Jeffrey R. Stevens
Living reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-47829-6_2057-1


Animal-assisted interventions are professionally facilitated interactions between an unfamiliar animal and a person or group used to improve individual health or well-being. Types of interventions include animal-assisted therapy, education, and activities.


Animal-assisted interventions (AAIs) are a subset of human-animal interactions, a fundamental aspect of the human experience that captures the mutual and dynamic exchanges between people and other animals. Distinguished from affiliative relationships (pets), service dogs, and emotional support animals, AAIs involve interactions facilitated by a trained professional or paraprofessional (e.g., handlers, researchers, teachers, therapists) where an unfamiliar animal serves to confer psychophysiological benefits to a person or group. Dogs are the most commonly used animals in AAIs, though many incorporate horses or other species. Interventions are diverse in delivery, environment, purpose, structure, and...

This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.


  1. American Veterinary Medical Association (2019) Animal-assisted interventions: Definitions. Retrieved from https://www.avma.org/KB/Policies/Pages/Animal-Assisted-Interventions-Definitions.aspx
  2. Beetz, A. M. (2017). Theories and possible processes of action in animal assisted interventions. Applied Developmental Science, 21(2), 139–149.  https://doi.org/10.1080/10888691.2016.1262263.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Beetz, A., Uvnäs-Moberg, K., Julius, H., & Kotrschal, K. (2012). Psychosocial and psychophysiological effects of human-animal interactions: The possible role of oxytocin. Frontiers in Psychology, 3, 234.  https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2012.00234.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  4. Brelsford, V. L., Meints, K., Gee, N. R., & Pfeffer, K. (2017). animal-assisted interventions in the classroom – A systematic review. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 14(7), 669.  https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph14070669.CrossRefPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  5. Butler, K. (2013). Therapy dogs today: Their gifts, our obligation. Norman: Funpuddle Publishing Associates.Google Scholar
  6. Demello, L. R. (1999). The effect of the presence of a companion-animal on physiological changes following the termination of cognitive stressors. Psychology and Health, 14(5), 859–868.  https://doi.org/10.1080/08870449908407352.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Fine, A. H., & Beck, A. M. (2015). Understanding our kinship with animals: Input for health care professionals interested in the human-animal bond. In A. H. Fine (Ed.), Handbook on animal-assisted therapy (4th ed., pp. 3–10).  https://doi.org/10.1016/B978-0-12-801292-5.00001-8.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Fraser, D., Weary, D. M., Pajor, E. A., & Milligan, B. N. (1997). A scientific conception of animal welfare that reflects ethical concerns. Animal Welfare, 6, 187–205.Google Scholar
  9. Friedmann, E., Son, H., & Tsai, C.-C. (2010). The animal/human bond: Health and wellness. In A. H. Fine (Ed.), Handbook on animal-assisted therapy (3rd ed., pp. 85–107).  https://doi.org/10.1016/B978-0-12-381453-1.10006-6.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Fung, S. (2017). Canine-assisted reading programs for children with special educational needs: Rationale and recommendations for the use of dogs in assisting learning. Educational Review, 69(4), 435–450.  https://doi.org/10.1080/00131911.2016.1228611.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Grandin, T., Fine, A. H., O’Haire, M. E., Carlisle, G., & Bowers, C. M. (2015). The roles of animals for individuals with autism spectrum disorder. In A. H. Fine (Ed.), Handbook on animal-assisted therapy (4th ed., pp. 225–236).  https://doi.org/10.1016/B978-0-12-801292-5.00016-X.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Herzog, H. (2002). Darwinism and the study of human-animal interactions. Society and Animals, 10(4), 361–367.  https://doi.org/10.1163/156853002320936818.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Hunt, M. G., & Chizkov, R. R. (2014). Are therapy dogs Like Xanax? Does animal-assisted therapy impact processes relevant to cognitive behavioral psychotherapy? Anthrozoös, 27(3), 457–469.  https://doi.org/10.2752/175303714X14023922797959.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Joye, Y. (2011). Biophilia in animal-assisted interventions – Fad or fact? Anthrozoös, 24(1), 5–15.  https://doi.org/10.2752/175303711X12923300467249.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Muñoz Lasa, S., Máximo Bocanegra, N., Valero Alcaide, R., Atín Arratibel, M. A., Varela Donoso, E., & Ferriero, G. (2015). Animal assisted interventions in neurorehabilitation: a review of the most recent literature. Neurología, 30(1), 1–7.  https://doi.org/10.1016/j.nrleng.2013.01.010.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  16. Ng, Z., Albright, J., Fine, A. H., & Peralta, J. (2015). Our ethical and moral responsibility: Ensuring the welfare of therapy animals. In A. H. Fine (Ed.), Handbook on animal-assisted therapy (4th ed., pp. 357–376).  https://doi.org/10.1016/B978-0-12-801292-5.00026-2.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Polheber, J. P., & Matchock, R. L. (2014). The presence of a dog attenuates cortisol and heart rate in the Trier Social Stress Test compared to human friends. Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 37(5), 860–867.  https://doi.org/10.1007/s10865-013-9546-1.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  18. Ulrich, R. S. (1983). Aesthetic and affective response to natural environment. In I. Altman & J. F. Wohlwill (Eds.), Behavior and the natural environment (pp. 85–125). New York: Plenum Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Vormbrock, J. K., & Grossberg, J. M. (1988). Cardiovascular effects of human-pet dog interactions. Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 11(5), 509–517.  https://doi.org/10.1007/BF00844843.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  20. Wells, D. L. (2019). The state of research on human–animal relations: Implications for human health. Anthrozoös, 32(2), 169–181.  https://doi.org/10.1080/08927936.2019.1569902.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Wilson, E. O. (1984). Biophilia: The human bond with other species. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Psychology, Center for Brain, Biology and BehaviorUniversity of Nebraska-LincolnLincolnUSA

Section editors and affiliations

  • Jennifer Vonk
    • 1
  1. 1.Oakland UniversityRochesterUSA