Rana Aabed

Date Approved


Degree Type

Open Access Senior Honors Thesis

Department or School

Special Education and Communication Sciences and Disorders

First Advisor

John Palladino, Ph.D.

Second Advisor

Megan Moore, Ph.D.

Third Advisor

Ann R. Eisenberg, Ph.D.


The purpose of this study was to better understand how certified volunteer dog therapy handlers can be integrated into special education settings. Although the pet therapy discourse confirms the overall impact dog therapy has on youth’s psychological health (e.g., Groenewoud et al., 2023), research that could elucidate how volunteer handlers modify the way they have their dogs interact with special education populations is a present-day need that has otherwise not appeared in the literature. In response, this study involved a qualitative multiple-case investigation about the role of volunteer certified handlers and the dog therapy provisions they offer special education populations. Through self-disclosures about experiences working with special education students, our participants shared and reflected upon both general and specific encounters they have had with teachers and special education students when interacting with them as a volunteer therapy dog team. The analysis of these discussions pinpointed seven consistent thematic findings over the 6 participants interviewed. The thematic findings aligned with the use of therapy dogs in special education settings from the insights of volunteer handlers. The findings, such as dog therapy being used to support special education students in their emotional- regulation skills, were presented in the results. In addition, connections were made to current topics in special education, such as Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports, and how pet therapy can benefit the use of such interventions in schools. This study highlighted the importance of incorporating volunteer pet therapy handlers in the greater conversation of how to effectively implement pet therapy for special education students, as well as made connections between the benefits of pet therapy and how it can support specific special education concepts. This study developed the idea that animal-assisted interventions can be utilized to provide support in the classroom and how they can have a positive impact on special education students’ attainment of dog therapy benefits.