Cerebral palsied; Cerebral palsy; Animals--Therapeutic use; Children with disabilities--Care--United States; Children with disabilities--Rehabilitation; Medical personnel--caregiver relationships; Caregivers--Family relationships--United States; Parents of children with disabilities


Objectives: The purpose of this pilot study was to compare differences between traditional occupational therapy (OT) and OT delivered with a dog and handler, or animal-assisted therapy (AAT), on selected treatment goals for a 3-year-old child with cerebral palsy.

Methods: This mixed-methods research study included an A-B single subject design to collect data related to the child participant’s OT goals and qualitative interviews to understand the subjective experiences of the occupational therapist and the child’s parent.

Results: Visual and statistical analysis of the graphed data revealed that the child produced significantly more vocalizations when the dog was present. Visual analysis also indicated improvements in maintaining head at midline while seated. Two themes related to the child’s participation in therapy emerged from the interviews, including: Increased Enjoyment and Participation in Therapy with the Dog and Greater Improvement in Skills with the Dog. Two additional themes emerged from the occupational therapist related to the delivery of treatment, including: Incorporating AAT in OT is Challenging for the Therapist and Planning and Coordination is Critical for AAT Success in OT.

Conclusion: Overall, the results suggest that AAT is at its best when all of the individuals involved in the therapy are collaborating and activities utilize the strengths of each individual. This occurs when the child is motivated by the dog, is able to interact with the dog without excessive effort, and when the therapist is able to utilize both her own skills and the skills of the dog.

First Advisor

Anne Birge James, PhD, OTR/L

Second Advisor

George Tomlin, PhD, OTR/L

Date of Completion

Spring 2014

Degree Type







Degree Name

Master of Science in Occupational Therapy (MSOT)

Date of Award



Occupational Therapy


University of Puget Sound