La Trobe
2018 Bould Bigby dogs JIDR.pdf (144.31 kB)

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

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© 2018 The Authors. Journal of Intellectual Disability Research published by MENCAP and International Association of the Scientific Study of Intellectual and Developmental Disibilities and John Wiley & Sons Ltd 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.


Thanks are extended to research assistant Jennifer Gravrok, and to Joanne Baker, Jenn Atkins and the dogs from the national not-for-profit organisation. Funding support was from a La Trobe University Building Healthy Communities RFA Grant. Parts of this paper have been presented at the 2017 Annual Conference of the Australasian Association for Intellectual Disabilities, Hobart, Australia and the 5th Europe Congress, International Association for the Scientific Study of Intellectual & Developmental Disabilities. Athens, Greece.

La Trobe University Building Healthy Communities RFA Grant


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Journal of Intellectual Disability Research






9p. (p. 833-841)





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