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Examining the Role of Significant Others in Canine Welfare within the Context of Veterans Working with Service Dogs – Presented by Linzi Williamson

A growing body of literature has shown the efficacy of Service Dogs (SDs) in aiding Veterans with their posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and comorbid substance use (SU), but SD welfare has received less attention (e.g., health, comfort, nourishment, safety, ability to express innate behaviour, and freedom from suffering, pain, fear, and distress). This qualitative analysis examined aspects of animal welfare within the context of Canadian Veterans working with SDs from the perspective of their significant others. This analysis is part of a larger body of patient-oriented research (POR) which examined the experiences of 5 Veterans over a 1.5-year period as they acquired and were involved in the training of their SD. Veterans’ spouses (n = 3) and close friends (n = 2) shared their perceptions of the Veteran and SD interactions via semi-structured interviews conducted at 7 time-points (i.e., baseline to 18 months). Themes were developed following Braun and Clarke’s (2006) six-step analysis guide. Four key overarching themes relating to SD welfare were developed: (1) Veterans’ significant others acting as allies to the SDs, (2) SD welfare contributing to zooeyia for Veterans, (3) Veteran training challenges disallowing the SD to perform tasks and meet their potential, and (4) public access issues generating risks to SD teams’ comfort and welfare. The present analysis contributes to an on-going conversation of canine welfare in the animal-assisted intervention literature, and how recognizing the welfare of both Veteran and SD are equally vital to the success of the team and SD training programs.

Japanese knotweed presents unique training challenges, as working dogs to a living plant adds complexity for training and operational practice. As knotweed grows within the environment, it is crucial to ensure that the scent picture remains clean for the dogs. Training to a live plant involves careful consideration of the changing nature of knotweed throughout the seasons, with dogs required to be confident in recognising the plant at each stage of its life cycle. This significant variation is reflected in dog’s varying responses to the plant during different seasons, which will be demonstrated with video examples.

Although our dogs are operationally effective, it is important to test and evidence their ability to detect knotweed in a scientific way; we are therefore developing a research project exploring this. Two dogs will perform a double-blind odour identification test containing 30 target plants each, against control plant species. Initial data collection will be complete by July, ready to share analysis and insights at the conference.

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