HAI Research Update from HABRI | HABRI

HAI Research Update from HABRI

It has been a year of progress in the field of human-animal interaction (HAI) research. In 2019, HABRI funded five new research grants, increasing HABRI’s total to 31 competitively-awarded research projects and $3 million in total research funding. In addition, a number of studies published this year continued to build the evidence base connecting human-animal interaction and companion animal ownership to improved human health and well-being.

As we enter the new year, we wanted to share the attached compilation of research publications from 2019, as well as a brief overview of the most recent HABRI grants. If you have any questions about any specific research projects, regardless of whether or not it is a HABRI-funded study, we encourage you to contact us.

New HABRI-Funded Research Projects

In 2019, HABRI funded a total of five new grant projects, summarized below. These new studies will examine the influence of pet ownership, animal-assisted therapy, service dogs, and dog-walking on various aspects of physical and mental health of children, adolescents and their families.

With the funding of these five grants, HABRI has now funded a total of 31 grant projects, and HABRI’s total research funding has now exceeded $3 million.

  • Human-Animal Interaction and Trajectories of Youth Development in the Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development (ABCD) Study[1]
    • Hypothesis/Objectives:
      • To assess if there are systematic differences between families who own pets and those without pets with regard to demographics, cultural/ethnic identity, social environment, and health status and if these factors predict patterns of pet ownership (e.g., stability or changes in pet ownership status) over time
      • To determine the role of pet ownership in predicting trajectories of youth development, including social interaction and support, academic performance, mental health and physical activity
  • Diamond Dogs: A Pilot Dog-Walking Trial with Overweight College Students and Dog Shelters in the Inner-City[2]
    • Hypothesis/Objectives:
      • To assess the preliminary acceptability, feasibility and efficacy of a Shelter dog-walking intervention with college students.
      • During the study, the Shelter dog intervention relative to the pedometer-only control will have greater improvements in:
        • Moderate and vigorous steps walked/week and less sedentary hours/week;
        • Health and fitness, neurocognitive, and quality of life and mood outcomes, and result in greater acceptability ratings and will be more likely to promote pet adoption;
        • Acceptability and feasibility will also be assessed by recruitment, retention and percentage of missing data
  • Evaluating the Effects of Service Dogs on Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and their Caregivers[3]
    • Hypothesis/Objectives:
        • Assess differences in ASD symptomology in children with ASD, including social and interfering behaviors, via standardized caregiver-report
        • Assess differences in stress physiology and sleep in children with ASD via a salivary biomarker of stress and standardized caregiver-report
        • Assess differences in caregiver and family wellbeing via standardized caregiver-report
  • Direct Experimental Assessment of Therapy Dog Handlers on Child and Dog Behavior During AAI[4]
    • Hypothesis/Objectives:          
      • The investigators aim to determine how different handler styles influence stress behavior, affiliative behavior, and salivary cortisol levels of both child and dog during AAI sessions
      • In addition, the investigators aim to determine if the therapeutic effect for the child is altered by different dog handling procedures
      • The investigators hypothesize that the handler’s interaction will influence the behavior and stress hormone level of both the dog and the child during AAI sessions

For a full list of HABRI-funded projects, please visit www.habri.org/grants/projects/

Published Research in the Field of Human-Animal Interaction (HAI)

In addition to HABRI’s newly funded projects, it’s been an exciting year for the field of human-animal interaction (HAI) research. Numerous studies published this year build on existing evidence supporting companion animal ownership and/or interaction for a wide range of benefits to our collective health and well-being. This list is by no means exhaustive, and as always, should you or a colleague ever have any questions about any HAI research findings, please contact Lindsey Melfi at lmelfi@habri.org.

Physical Health and Wellbeing

Healthy Aging

  • A Systematic Review of Research on Pet Ownership and Animal Interactions among Older Adults
    • Gee, N. R., & Mueller, M. K. (2019). A Systematic Review of Research on Pet Ownership and Animal Interactions among Older Adults. Anthrozoös, 32(2), 183-207.
    • In this systematic review of articles focused on HAI and older adults, 145 articles were reviewed and ranked based on a modified version of the OCEBM level system.
    • A wide range of methodological approaches and rigor was found.
    • Many of the results presented are promising in terms of the potential for animals to positively impact the health and wellbeing of older adults, but the mixed findings also reflect the reality that the relationship between humans and animals is complicated and at times conflicted.
    • It is suggested that future researchers embrace this complexity and explore theoretical frameworks and methodological approaches that can account for the uniqueness of the relationships between pets and people.
  • Future Directions for Research on Human–Animal Interaction in an Aging Population
    • Gee, N. R., & Galik, E. (2019). Future Directions for Research on Human–Animal Interaction in an Aging Population. Anthrozoös, 32(2), 283-291.
    • This final paper in the thematic issue, “Human –Animal Interaction and Healthy Human Aging,” highlights and distills key points from the series of papers and provides recommendations for improving and expanding Human–Animal Interaction (HAI) research into healthy human aging.
    • The paper concludes the importance of animals in the lives of older adults is apparent from the ubiquity of pet ownership among that population.
    • However, we have much to learn about how, when, and under what conditions companion animals may be beneficial to the psychological or physical health of older adults.


Child Health and Development

Mental Health and Wellness

  • Animal Visitation Program (AVP) Reduces Cortisol Levels of University Students: A Randomized Controlled Trial
    • Pendry, Patricia, and Jaymie L. Vandagriff. “Animal Visitation Program (AVP) Reduces Cortisol Levels of University Students: A Randomized Controlled Trial.” AERA Open 5.2 (2019): 2332858419852592.
    • This randomized control trial (RCT) demonstrates that petting animals during a 10-minute, college-based animal visitation program featuring shelter cats and dogs lowered salivary cortisol levels of students compared to those who merely observed, watched still images of the same animals, and waited without external stimuli.
    • Results suggest college-based AVPs may provide effective stress relief.
    • This is the first causal examination of a university- and group-based AVP on university students’ salivary cortisol levels, it complements work by Polheber and Matchock (2013), who found a stress buffering effect on salivary cortisol in college students who performed the Trier Social Stress Test (TSST) in the presence of a therapy dog compared to students who completed the TSST alone or with a friend.
  • Military veterans and their PTSD service dogs: associations between training methods, PTSD severity, dog behavior, and the human-animal bond
  • Incorporating animal-assisted therapy in mental health treatments for adolescents: A systematic review of canine assisted psychotherapy
    • Jones, M. G., Rice, S. M., & Cotton, S. M. (2019). Incorporating animal-assisted therapy in mental health treatments for adolescents: A systematic review of canine assisted psychotherapy. PloS one, 14(1), e0210761.
    • This systematic review concludes there is emerging evidence to suggest that Canine-Assisted Psychotherapy (CAP) improves the efficacy of mental health treatments in self-selected adolescent populations via reductions in primary symptomatology, and via secondary factors that improve therapeutic processes and quality, such as engagement and retention.
    • The two studies that used an RCT design provided promising results, indicating a reduction in clinical symptoms over and above treatment as usual for global functioning and internalising (emotional) problems.
    • This review was also the first systematic review of AAT for participants in the distinct developmental period of adolescence. A number of questions have arisen from the current literature namely, what are the specific interactions or elements that create change and for which participants? Some excellent recommendations to improve the quality of the literature have been made in previous reviews including: clear and accurate use of terminology to describe interventions, such as those developed by the IAHAIO; ensure therapeutic interventions are distinguished from brief unstructured activities; and calls for standardization (manualisation) of interventions to improve treatment fidelity and replicability.


The Human-Animal Bond


[1] HABRI-funded study

[2] HABRI-funded study

[3] HABRI-funded study

[4] HABRI-funded study

[5] HABRI-funded study

[6] HABRI-funded study