USF St. Petersburg campus Honors Program Theses (Undergraduate)

First Advisor

James P. McHale, Ph.D., Professor, College of Arts and Sciences


University of South Florida St. Petersburg

Document Type


Date Available

May 2014

Publication Date


Date Issued

April 2014


Animal-assisted therapy has developed into a valuable tool for therapeutic interventions with children. Previous studies have targeted physical outcomes and comfort functions of animal-assisted therapy. This thesis sought to establish the extent to which evidence marshaled to date supports the hypothesis that canine and equine assisted therapy may also produce benefits in children’s mental health (socioemotional) outcomes in the areas of assertiveness, competence, and interpersonal relatedness. A review of the animal-assisted therapy literature identified a general lack of research specific to this area. This said, the very limited research base relevant to this topic did provide suggestive evidence that canine and equine assisted therapy can produce benefits in socioemotional outcomes. A box-score approach was taken to organize data, and revealed positive benefits in assertiveness and competence in a small number of existing peer-reviewed studies of equine-assisted therapy, with benefits in relatedness found in both canine and equine assisted therapy. These results hint at a unique role for both types of interventions in promoting socioemotional gains. The analyses also indicated that a diverse sampling of child populations has been served by animal-assisted therapy, suggesting many potential applications. However, most documented socioemotional benefits were found in studies enrolling children with autism spectrum disorder. Finally, despite reported positive effects, many studies were limited by methodological weaknesses. The analyses undertaken in this review emphasize the need for further, more rigorous.


A thesis submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements of the University Honors Program, University of South Florida St. Petersburg.

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