'More people talk to you when you have a dog' - dogs as catalysts for social inclusion of people with intellectual disabilities Academic Article uri icon


  • BACKGROUND:Research has shown Australian group homes, and supported living options, fail to support people with intellectual disabilities (IDs) to develop social connections. This pilot study evaluates the effectiveness of a visiting dog walking program to facilitate encounters with other community members. METHOD:Sixteen adults with IDs were assigned to one of two groups, matched on key characteristics. Group 1 had 14, 1-hour outings in the community with a dog and their handler; Group 2 had 14 outings with a handler alone, followed by an additional five outings with a handler and a dog. Within and between group differences were analysed according to number of encounters when a dog was present and absent. Qualitative data provided insights into the nature of these encounters. RESULTS:The number of encounters was significantly higher when a dog was present than when participants went out into the community with a handler alone. This pattern was reflected in the qualitative data, which also suggested the presence of a dog helped to break social norms about speaking to strangers and discourage disrespect towards people with IDs. CONCLUSIONS:A dog walking program has the potential to encourage convivial encounters, which in the long term could be catalysts to help people with IDs build social connections in their communities; this should be further explored.

publication date

  • 2018