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Current Perspectives on the Challenges of Implementing Assistance Dogs in Human Mental Health Care.

Veterinary Sciences 2023 January 16
The prevalence of mental health disorders, driven by current global crises, is notably high. During the past decades, the popularity of dogs assisting humans with a wide spectrum of mental health disorders has significantly increased. Notwithstanding these dogs' doubtless value, research on their legal status, certification processes, training and management practices, as well as their welfare status, has been scarce. This scoping review highlights that in contrast to other assistance dogs such as guide dogs, there exists no consistent terminology to mark dogs that assist humans with impaired mental health. Legal authorities monitoring the accreditation process, training and tracking of mental health supporting dogs are broadly lacking, with only few exceptions. This review emphasizes the need to address several topics in the promotion of progress in legal and welfare issues related to assistance dogs as well as emotional support dogs for humans with a mental health disorder. The current body of knowledge was assessed in three different areas of focus: (1) the legal dimension including definitions and certification processes; (2) the dimension of performed tasks; and (3) the dog welfare dimension including aspects of the relationship with the handler and risks associated with children recipients. Considering the challenges associated with a mental health diagnosis, collaborations of dog provider organizations and health care professionals would be desirable to continuously assess the efficiency of the human-dog dyad regarding their overall compatibility, general satisfaction and mutual well-being.

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