Animal welfare is a growing concern in Animal-Assisted Services. Although studies have been conducted on stress signals and—to a lesser extent—positive emotions, no research has yet been conducted on the motivation of the integrated animal, to the best of our knowledge. Not all therapy animals are trained to assist. Are they volunteers or professionals? Volunteers have a higher degree of self-government and can quit when they are not motivated anymore. Professionals might, however, go the extra mile. Can we compare animal volunteers and professionals to their human equivalents? If so, this might help to structure discussions about animal welfare and motivation in interventions. Furthermore, it can provide better arguments for the career planning and career ending of these animals. Using animal-friendly interventions might influence motivation and, consequently, the moment at which efforts cease. Studying motivation is not easy, as it requires data on dopamine, the molecule involved in motivation, reward and repetition of behavior. However, the use of wearable techniques such as on site electroencephalograms (EEGs) for freely moving animals and non-invasive dopamine measurements is a developing and promising area of research. The translation of these data into context-ethograms—ethograms that show behavior in a context/intervention—can help handlers and therapists to understand the behavior of their therapy animal better and with less subjectivity.
Read the full paper here: Wijnen, B. & Martens, P. (2022). Animals in Animal-Assisted Services: Are They Volunteers or Professionals? Animals, 12(19), 2564.