Contemporary Family Therapy

, Volume 41, Issue 1, pp 79–91 | Cite as

Therapy Dogs in Couple and Family Therapy: A Therapist’s Perspective

  • Rachel Policay
  • Mariana FalconierEmail author
Original Paper


The purpose of this qualitative study was to understand therapists’ strategies, benefits, and challenges in working with therapy dogs in couple and family therapy. Eight individuals participated in semi-structured interviews; 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 in the therapy process, and concluded with recommendations for therapists who aspire to work with canine-assisted psychotherapy (CAP) in their practices. The data were analyzed using transcendental phenomenology. The findings suggest that the majority of therapists who use CAP with couples and families find it to be beneficial for their clients, the therapy dog, and the therapists themselves, with the identification of a few challenges. Participants reported that compared to individual therapy, in which the therapy dog is included to fulfill a treatment goal or enhance a therapy model, in couple and family therapy, the therapist was much more flexible in regards to the therapy dog’s presence. Overall, therapists observed the system’s dynamics as family members interacted with the dog. Additionally, the majority of participants reported on the therapy dog’s ability to help the therapist better understand their clients and the dog’s presence also helped to overcome challenges particular to working with more than one client. Clinical and research implications are discussed.


Qualitative method Therapy dogs Marriage and family therapy Canine-assisted psychotherapy 



This study was not funded.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no financial conflict of interest. Author A, Rachel Policay, has personal ties to the subject matter and considers herself to be a dog lover. Author A has a long history of dog ownership. In addition, Author A desires to use Canine-Assisted Psychotherapy (CAP) in her professional future. Author A has a dog and has just begun obedience classes and eventually, classes to cultivate her dog’s therapy skills.

Ethical Approval

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

Informed Consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in this study.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State UniversityFalls ChurchUSA

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