Current Research Projects in
The OHAIRE Group is leading in several new areas of discovery related to human-animal interaction. Our overarching research agenda examines the possible role of human-animal interaction in enhancing human mental health and wellness. Our current research projects focus on three key areas:
(1) Service dogs for various populations
- Military veterans with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and their families
- Children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and their families
- Individuals with mobility and medical alert needs and their families
(2) Facility dogs (also known as resident therapy dogs)
(3) Behavior coding of human-animal interaction
Read below to learn more!
Service Dogs for Military Veterans with PTSD and their Partners
The OHAIRE Group is collaborating with service dog provider K9s For Warriors to evaluate the effects of service dogs on veterans with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), traumatic brain injury (TBI), and/or military sexual trauma (MST) and their partners/spouses. Many anecdotal reports suggest that service dogs provide unique benefits to veterans with trauma, however there is limited empirical research on this topic. Over the course of multiple studies, this research stream has been funded by the National Institutes of Health (NICHD, NCCIH, NCATS), Merrick Pet Care, the Human-Animal Bond Research Institute, Petco Foundation, Newman’s Own Foundation, Indiana Clinical and Translational Sciences Institute, Bayer Animal Health, and Dogtopia Foundation. The goal of this research program is to empirically evaluate the effects of service dogs on military members with trauma by comparing those with service dogs to those on the waitlist for a service dog. We are examining questions of efficacy (i.e. does it work?), mechanism (i.e. how does it work?), and usage (e.g. what trained tasks are used the most?). Our latest study aims to evaluate key clinical indicators of mental health and wellness through standardized survey assessments and cortisol sampling. This study is a registered clinical trial. Our primary goal is to bring a scientific lens to better understand whether and how service dogs may assist veterans in need and their families.
Service Dogs for Children with Autism and their Caregivers
The OHAIRE Group is collaborating with the service dog provider Canine Companions for Independence as well as the Purdue Autism Research Center to evaluate the effects that service dogs may have on children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and their families. With funding from the Human-Animal Bond Research Institute, Nestlé Purina, and the Indiana Clinical and Translational Sciences Institute, we are conducting both physiological and behavioral assessments to understand how children with autism service dogs differ from those on the waitlist to receive a service dog. We are also seeking to understand how service dogs may assist caregivers of children with autism and potentially impact their parenting stress and quality of life.
Mobility and Medical Alert Service Dogs
The OHAIRE Group is collaborating with service dog and facility dog provider Canine Assistants to evaluate the effects of human-animal interaction in a program of research funded by Elanco. This partnership allows for multiple studies investigating the impact of the human-animal bond on service dog recipients. The initial study is one of the first large-scale studies to collect scientific evidence of the emotional and psychosocial effects of canine assistance and companionship for service dog recipients. A concurrent study is investigating the impact of living with a service dog on family members of the service dog recipient. In addition to the emotional and psychosocial outcomes, this study also measured the effect of a service dog on caregiving outcomes.
Facility Dogs and their Handlers
The OHAIRE Group is also collaborating with service dog and facility dog provider, Canine Assistants for the third study made possible by the four-year partnership funded by Elanco. This is the first national study of the impact of facility dogs on their handlers’ mental health and job-related well-being. Although facility dogs are increasingly popular in hospitals to improve the patient experience, little is known about how they may affect the hospital personnel they are working alongside. Using surveys, including standardized measures for job satisfaction, burnout, and stress, the goal of this study is to make comparisons between pediatric hospital personnel working with a facility dog and similar personnel working without one.
The Observation of Human-Animal Interaction for Research (OHAIRE) Coding System
Are you a researcher who wants to objectively quantify human-animal interactions? The OHAIRE Coding System was designed to evaluate human social behavior in naturalistic settings that may or may not include animals. The OHAIRE uses interval behavior coding (also known as one-zero sampling) to capture emotional displays, interactive behaviors, including social communication and environmental interactions, and interfering behaviors. To date, the OHAIRE has been used to code interactions with dogs and guinea pigs, as well as social behaviors before and after interactions with horses. It can provide a comparative evaluation of human behavior with animals versus other control conditions, pre- vs. post- human-animal interaction, as well as a quantification of the human-animal bond which may moderate intervention outcomes.
When rats first interact with people they may experience fear and stress thereby harming welfare and the human-animal bond. Fortunately, the positive human-animal interaction of rat tickling can help. The OHAIRE group has collaborated with Purdue's Laboratory Animal Welfare Science Lab run by Dr. Brianna Gaskill on research related to rat tickling. A project funded by Petco® was the first research to investigate the impacts of tickling pet rats on the rats themselves and the humans that interact with them. Projects funded by Animal Welfare Institute and the American Association for Laboratory Animal Science focused on increasing implementation of rat tickling in the laboratory.
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