What is Human-Animal Interaction?

The core focus of the OHAIRE lab is to evaluate the unique and pervasive interactions between humans and animals through rigorous scientific research.

Learn more about the OHAIRE lab's current research on this topic.

Read the OHAIRE lab's published research on this topic.

Human-Animal Interaction (HAI) is a broad term referring to any manner of relationship or interaction between a person and a non-human animal. Although people have lived alongside animals for thousands of years, research in the field of Human-Animal Interaction is relatively new. Only in the past few decades have researchers begun looking at the effects of human relationships with other animals [1]. One component of Human-Animal Interaction is the Human-Animal Bond, which is often defined as a mutually beneficial relationship between people and animals that influences the health and well-being of both. According to some research, interacting with animals may improve our physical [2] and mental health [3, 4, 5], as well as enhance aspects of our daily lives [6]. Similarly, research has found that Human-Animal Interactions may have positive results for some of the animals involved as well, including reduced anxiety and fear [7] and health benefits [8]. However, these findings are not universal and there remains a need for rigorous scientific research to evaluate the outcomes in greater depth [9].

What are some types of Human-Animal Interactions?

Human-Animal Interaction encompasses many relationships that we have with animals including companion animals, emotional support animals, working animals, and any kind of Animal-Assisted Intervention. Animal-Assisted Intervention is an umbrella term for an intervention that purposely incorporates animals into its process. Three branches of Animal-Assisted Intervention include: (1) Animal-Assisted Therapy, which is the incorporation of animals as a form of treatment in a goal-directed intervention, (2) Animal-Assisted Activities, which are less structured enrichment activities with animals intended to enhance a participant’s quality of life, and (3) Animal-Assisted Education, which are structured activities meant to enhance a participant’s academic or educational abilities [10, 11].

Also categorized under Animal-Assisted Intervention are Service or Assistance Animals, who are trained to perform specific tasks to aid individuals with disabilities in their day-to-day activities [12]. Service animals differ from therapy animals in that they are trained to assist one specific person, whom they may accompany in public [13]. In contrast, therapy animals offer support for one or multiple people, facilitated by a handler who is not a participant in the intervention.

Is Human-Animal Interaction always beneficial?

Despite the advantages of human relationships with animals, not all human-animal interactions are positive [14]. Some species or individual animals are not a good fit for close relationships with humans or for participation in Animal-Assisted Intervention. Likewise, some people may find contact with animals unpleasant, or they might be allergic or afraid. Human-Animal Interaction may manifest itself differently across cultures depending on the species of animals involved, varying cultural views towards non-human animals, and familial history of pet-ownership [15].

Human-Animal Interactions may be beneficial for one party but not the other, such as in cases where the animal has not been socialized to humans prior to the interaction and feels stressed or scared. More severe detriments, such as animal abuse, neglect, and animal bites, pose a risk to both humans and animals. Therefore, it is important to acknowledge that not every Human-Animal Interaction is positive and assessments for the experiences and outcomes of both humans and animals are essential [16].

At the OHAIRE lab, we look at both positive and negative aspects of Animal-Assisted Intervention and Human-Animal Interaction. Through this process, we hope to obtain a more comprehensive picture of the unique and pervasive interactions between humans and animals. Our goal is to conduct meaningful, clinically relevant research that enhances the interactions and outcomes for both parties.

Written by Alison C. Kirkham and the OHAIRE Group


  1. McCune, S., Kruger, K. A., Griffin, J. A., Esposito, L., Freund, L. S., Hurley, K. J., & Bures, R. (2014). Evolution of research into the mutual benefits of human–animal interactionAnimal Frontiers, 4(3), 49-58.
  2. Matchock, R.L. (2015). Pet ownership and physical healthCurrent Opinion in Psychiatry, 28(5), 386-392.
  3. Crossman, M. K., Kazdin, A. E., Matijczak, A., Kitt, E. R., & Santos, L. R. (2018). The Influence of interactions with dogs on affect, anxiety, and arousal in children. Journal of Clinical Child & Adolescent Psychology, 1–14.
  4. Bergen-Cico, D., Smith, Y., Wolford, K., Gooley, C., Hannon, K., Woodruff, R., Spicer, M., & Gump, B. (2018). Dog ownership and training reduces post-traumatic stress symptoms and increases self-compassion among veterans: Results of a longitudinal control study. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 24(12), 1166–1175.
  5. Kruger, K. A., & Serpell, J. A. (2010). Animal-assisted interventions in mental health: Definitions and theoretical foundations. In A. Fine (Eds.), Handbook on animal-assisted therapy (3rd, pp. 33-48). San Diego: Academic Press.
  6. Richards, E. A., McDonough, M. H., Edwards, N. E., Lyle, R. M., & Troped, P. J. (2013). Psychosocial and environmental factors associated with dog-walkingInternational Journal of Health Promotion and Education, 51(4), 198-211.
  7. Cloutier, S., Panksepp, J., & Newberry, R. C. (2012). Playful handling by caretakers reduces fear of humans in the laboratory ratApplied Animal Behaviour Science, 140(3-4), 161-171.
  8. Gourkow, N., Hamon, S. C., & Phillips, C. J. C. (2014). Effect of gentle stroking and vocalization on behaviour, mucosal immunity and upper respiratory disease in anxious shelter catsPreventive Veterinary Medicine, 117(1), 266-275.
  9. Vitztum, C., & Urbanik, J. (2016). Assessing the dog: A theoretical analysis of the companion animal’s actions in human-animal interactions. Society & Animals, 24(2), 172-185.
  10. Fine, A. H., & Mackintosh, T. K. (2015). Animal-assisted interventions: Entering a crossroads of explaining an instinctive bond under the scrutiny of scientific inquiry.In H. Friedman (Eds.), Encyclopedia of Mental Health (2nd, pp. 68-73). Academic Press.
  11. International Association of Human-Animal Interaction Organizations (IAHAIO), Task Force on the Definitions for Animal-Assisted Intervention and Guidelines for Wellness of Animals Involved. (2014). Report of The IAHAIO Definitions for Animal-Assisted Intervention and Guidelines for Wellness of Animals Involved. Retrieved from: https://iahaio.org/new/index.php?display=declarations
  12. Parenti, L., Foreman, A., Meade, B. J., & Wirth, O. (2013). A revised taxonomy of assistance animalsJournal of Rehabilitation Research and Development, 50(6), 745-56.
  13. Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990, 42 U.S.C.A. § 12101 et seq. (West 1993).
  14. Dhont, K., Hodson, G., Loughnan, S., & Amiot, C. E. (2019). Rethinking human-animal relations: The critical role of social psychology. Group Processes & Intergroup Relations, 22, 769-784.
  15. Gray, P. B., & Young, S. M. (2011). Human-pet dynamics in cross-cultural perspective. Anthrozoös, 24(1), 17-30.
  16. Lerner, H. (2019). A proposal for a comprehensive human–animal approach of evaluation for animal-assisted interventions. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 16(22), 4305.

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