The experience of acquiring an assistance dog: examination of the transition process for first-time handlers Academic Article uri icon


  • PURPOSE:As the popularity of using dogs to assist individuals with disability grows, there is a need for increased understanding of assistance dog handlers' experiences of living and working with their dog. This is particularly pertinent to first-time handlers and during the initial placement period, where the handler and assistance dog, and the relationship forming between them, may be extremely vulnerable. The aim of this study was to better understand first-time assistance dog handlers' experience of the placement period, especially any challenges that they experience. MATERIALS AND METHODS:Semi-structured interviews were conducted with two youth and five adult handlers, and one parent of a young handler, recruited from three Australian assistance dog organizations. Interviews were conducted 1 month following the initial acquisition of an assistance dog. Meleis' transitions theory was used to develop a better understanding of the transition process for first-time handlers. RESULTS:Inductive content analysis identified various challenges that first-time handlers experience throughout the transition period. These included: the initial response to living with the assistance dog; renegotiating relationships and social interactions; and, adjusting expectations regarding the assistance dog's behavior and capabilities. CONCLUSION:First-time handler experiences indicate a need for assistance dog organizations to develop initiatives to further assist their handlers through a smooth transition into assistance dog ownership. Implications for rehabilitation Integrating an assistance dog into a first-time handler's life is a long process full of challenges. Provider organizations and other support members markedly impact the ease of transitioning an assistance dog into a handler's life. Organizations should be aware of the role they have and employ strategies to create as smooth a transition as possible. Support from other support members is crucial to ease the challenges experienced.

publication date

  • 2019