The influence of contextual factors on an individual’s ability to work with an assistance dog Academic Article uri icon


  • Purpose: First-time assistance dog handlers experience a profound life change when they bring an assistance dog into their home. Therefore, this article investigates the broad context of handlers' lived experiences prior to and throughout the first year after acquiring an assistance dog.Materials and methods: To understand holistic experiences better, semi-structured interviews were conducted with first-time assistance dog handlers (n = 7), parents (n = 7), assistance dog instructors (n = 6), carers/other individuals (n = 3) at four time points: before an individual received an assistance dog, and then at three further times for up to one year after they received the assistance dog.Results: Inductive content analysis revealed that four main contextual factors (societal, social support, environmental and personal) influenced the lived experience of working with an assistance dog. Many of these factors were outside of the handler and the assistance dog organization's control, and they were shown to cause many challenges for handlers.Conclusion: These factors must, therefore, be taken into consideration when organizations make decisions about placing an assistance dog.IMPLICATIONS FOR REHABILITATIONSocietal influences can both hinder and facilitate the benefits first-time handlers receive with their assistance dog in public.Support from others is important to successfully integrate an assistance dog into a first-time handler's life.A handler's level of environmental control can influence their experiences with their assistance dog.Personal factors such as a handler's experience of disability and motivation or resilience can impact experiences with their assistance dog.

publication date

  • 2020