Graduation Year


Document Type


Degree Type

Open Access Capstone

Degree Name

Doctor of Occupational Therapy (OTD)


Occupational Therapy


Purpose: The purpose of the study was to understand the clinical reasoning used by occupational therapists to select animal assisted therapy with a dog to be included in a treatment plan for their pediatric occupational therapy clients

Theoretical Framework. The Ecology of Human Performance model supports the study purpose and emphasizes the effect of a person’s context and environment on their ability to function and perform tasks.

Methods. The descriptive qualitative study used interviews of seven occupational therapy practitioners who have included dogs in therapy sessions with children. Interactive coding and theme development was employed with member checking applied to validate the data collected. An audit trail and reflexivity journal were kept adding rigor in the process.

Results. Occupational therapy practitioners reported using standard occupational therapy evaluation practices and incorporated clinical reasoning afterward to determine if animal assisted therapy (AAT) with a dog would benefit their clients. Occupational therapy practitioners used experience and expertise to develop their AAT programs and select and train their dogs. Three themes emerged: Occupational therapy decision making processes are primary and fundamental, dogs are exceptional, intuitive therapy partners with unique needs, and adding animal assisted therapy to occupational therapy practice requires expertise beyond novice.

Conclusions: Occupational therapy practitioners who wish to engage with dogs in therapy need advanced experience and thorough exploration of AAT practices, to best apply occupation centered therapy in context. Further research is needed to support occupational therapy practitioners who utilize AAT with dogs in practice.

Faculty Mentor

Shirley P. O'Brien, Ph.D., OTR/L, FAOTA

Department Affiliation

Occupational Therapy

Committee Member

Dana M. Howell, PhD, OTD, OTR/L, FAOTA

Department Affiliation

Occupational Therapy

Department Affiliation

Occupational Therapy

IRB Approval Number (if applicable)