Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Social Work (MSW)


Social Work


Lyle S. Hallman Faculty of Social Work

First Advisor

Nancy Freymond

Advisor Role

Principal Advisor

Second Advisor

Halina Haag

Advisor Role

Co-Advisor/Expert Animal Assisted Social Work Practice


This research project explores the experiences of school social workers partnering with trained, accredited facility dogs in an Ontario school board. A qualitative research methodology using an interpretative phenomenological analysis has been employed. Results reveal that organizational support is key to the successful integration of facility dogs in clinical social work practice within a school board. Environmental considerations allow for the establishment of therapeutic conditions that support positive interactions and interventions with a canine. Findings clarify three dimensions of canine-assisted therapy: connection, attunement and the handler-canine relationship. Connection is the ‘magic’ of canine-assisted therapy, the essence of an interaction between students, social workers and a facility dog. Attunement is the ‘magical ingredient’ that is a critical component of canine-assisted therapy and necessary for connections to develop and flourish. Finally, the handler-canine relationship is the ‘magician’ that facilitates a therapeutic interaction as it is through communications between a handler and their canine partner that canine-assisted therapy is facilitated. The presence of canine-assisted therapy in the schools contributes to enhanced feelings of community, brings together isolated and lonely students, and offers comfort and support when school communities are impacted by a traumatic event. Research findings also help to distinguish the work of a facility dog from traditional therapy and service dogs. Canine-assisted therapy is a unique, cost-effective way to support student mental health. This exploratory research will inform future therapy programs, practices and research.

Convocation Year


Convocation Season


Included in

Social Work Commons