Animal-assisted interventions (AAIs) with dogs are becoming popular worldwide, but there is a lack of scientific data on dog selection procedures, which prevents the organizations involved from adopting a uniform assessment method. In the absence of legal regulations and common guidelines, dogs currently engage in diverse activities, some of which may pose more of a concern for their welfare than others. The present study sought to standardize and validate a selection protocol of dogs involved in AAIs and to make it available to interested Italian institutions. To meet this aim, we enrolled dogs already working in AAIs and qualified by their handlers as fully suitable (N = 20) or suitable with reserve (N = 20) and nonworker pet dogs (N = 20) in this study. Each dog underwent a behavioral examination followed by role-playing, simulating an AAI session, presenting various conditions, and unexpected stimuli possibly occurring in AAIs. In both procedures, blinded experts judged the suitability of dogs evaluating controllability, reliability, and predictability of their social behavior and considering possible concerns regarding safety or welfare of patients and of the dogs themselves. Concurrent validity between procedures was fair, whereas reasons for dogs’ allocation resulted in moderate accordance for dogs being aggressive, fearful, or avoidant of an unknown person. Moreover, dogs judged suitable, suitable with reserve, or not suitable by the experts significantly differed for the relative duration of negative interactions with unknown person, fear, and aggressiveness expressed in the role-playing. Differences in the ability to cope with stressful situations possibly occurring in AAIs were unnoticeable with the present protocol, and stress signals shown by dogs during the role-playing were judged by the experts or by the handlers not to differ between dogs. Given our results, the present protocol could be easily and properly adopted to identify dogs’ behavioral prerequisites for AAIs. For the procedure to work properly, each dyad (dog and handler) should undergo behavioral examination and role-playing simulation in sequence.
animal assisted intervention, behavior, behavioral examination, dog, role-playing, selection protocol
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