A Practitioner's Toolkit for Practicing with Clients and Canine Companions: Literature Review and Implications for Therapeutic Practice

Jennifer L. Stoltenberg, University of St. Thomas

Abstract

Procedures for how one utilizes the power of the human–animal bond in a therapeutic setting are poorly understood and formulated standardized techniques for recommending a relationship with a companion animal, specifically a dog, have not been thoroughly outlined for mental health practitioners. Animal-assisted therapy (AAT) has been shown to be effective in recent meta-analyses with an improvement in overall functioning, mental health, quality of life, and a decreased sense of isolation. The source of mental health struggles differ with each individual and a dog can enhance a person’s quality of life by being a source of connection, offering empathy and unconditional positive regard, providing companionship, encouraging engagement, and supporting self-efficacy and strengthening a sense of empowerment. Mental health practitioners can provide leadership and guidance by understanding the benefits and challenges associated with the human-animal relationship. Based on the available research regarding the human-animal bond and animal-assisted interventions, a toolkit was created to assist practitioners who feel that the human-canine relationship could be beneficial for a client and help the practitioner identify, assess, join, and work with a client as they enter into or are already engaged in a relationship with a dog. The guiding principle of the toolkit is that the human-animal bond can be a source of healing, connection, and meaning for some clients and, by accepting and supporting the relationship between client and canine companion, practitioners can enhance the wellness aspects of the human-dog relationship.