Therapy Dogs in Couple and Family Therapy - A Therapist's Perspective

TR Number



Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title


Virginia Tech


The purpose of this study was to contribute an increased understanding of therapists' experiences working with therapy dogs in couple and family therapy. This qualitative study sought to describe the overall experience of therapists who work with therapy dogs in couple and family therapy, including managing the therapy dog's presence with more than one client and the benefits and challenges of doing so. Eight individuals participated in semi-structured interviews and areas of inquiry included how therapists made the decision to work with a therapy dog, how the therapy dog was managed in session, the impact of the therapy dog's presence (e.g. benefits and challenges), and recommendations for therapists who aspire to work with Canine-Assisted Psychotherapy (CAP) in their practices. The data was analyzed using transcendental phenomenology. Findings from the data analysis suggest that the majority of therapists who use CAP with couples and families find it to be beneficial for the therapists, the couples and families, and the therapy dog, with only a few challenges. Participants focused more on being flexible and observing the system's dynamics surrounding the therapy dog, whereas in individual therapy it appears that therapy dogs are included to fulfill a treatment goal or enhance a therapy model. Additionally, the majority of participants reported on the therapy dog's ability to help the therapist better understand their couple and family clients and overcome particular challenges when working with more than one client. The findings contribute to the CAP literature, have clinical implications, and provide areas for further exploration.



canines, therapy dogs, marriage and family therapy