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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Child-canine bonding in children with ASD : findings within and across case studies Struik, Kathryn Rebekah


The demand for support for children and families impacted by Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) continues to grow, and one increasingly popular avenue of support is the use of therapeutic canines. Parents searching for service canines trained to work with children with ASD however face formidable obstacles surrounding the availability and cost of canines. Due to these challenges, parents may seek less formal routes to support their children with ASD, often adding companion canines to their family. Despite enthusiasm for integrating companion canines into the care plan, research examining human-animal bonding in children with ASD and the mechanisms through which child-canine bonding occurs in this population is needed. Furthermore, research identifying factors that influence children on the spectrum’s ability to bond with a companion canine is meagre. Given the nuanced interactions that exist to indicate the presence or absence of bonding (e.g., proximity, initiations of interactions and touch), this exploratory case study employed interviews and observations to gain insights into the mechanisms or pathways through which child-canine bonding occurs and to identify factors contributing to this bonding process. Families (N=6), with a child aged 5-14 years with a confirmed diagnosis of ASD and their family canine, participated in the study. Using the components of attachment theory (i.e., safe haven, secure base, proximity seeking, and separation anxiety) as a framework to categorize thematic responses, directed content analysis was used to identify whether the child-canine relationship could be conceptualized as an attachment relationship. Conventional content analysis was used to identify key themes characterizing child-canine bonding arising in interviews and observations and later verified by field notes. Findings revealed support for the use of Bowlby’s theory to understanding child-canine bonding with proximity maintenance identified as the most prevalent component followed by secure base, safe haven, and separation anxiety. A cross-case analysis revealed seven prevalent themes characterizing child-canine bonding. The themes that were identified included: 1) Canine Acquisition; 2) Bonding Strategies; 3) Canine Characteristics; 4) Canine as Family Member; 5) Family Profile; 6) Benefits; and 7) Other. Theoretical and applied implications of these findings are addressed.

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