Effects of a Dog-Assisted Social- and Emotional-Competence Training for Prisoners: A Controlled Study

Karin Hediger*, Rahel Marti, Vivien Urfer, Armin Schenk, Verena Gutwein, Christine Dörr

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Background: Previous research has called for improving psychological interventions and developing new treatments for prisoners. Animal-assisted prison-based programmes have increasingly been used as an approach, but there is a lack of studies investigating the effectiveness of such programmes. Objective: To investigate the effects of a dog-assisted social- and emotional-competence training on the socioemotional competences of prisoners compared to treatment as usual. Methods: In a controlled trial, we investigated 62 prisoners that participated in either a 6-month dog-assisted psychotherapeutic programme or the standard treatment. We assessed social and emotional competences before and after the training and at a 4-month follow-up. Data were analysed with linear models. Results: The prisoners’ self-assessed social and emotional competences did not differ. The psychotherapists rated the prisoners’ emotional competences in the intervention group higher at the follow-up but not after the training. The psychotherapists did not rate the prisoners’ social competences in the intervention group differently but did find them to have higher self-regulation at follow-up and lower aggressiveness after the training than the control group. Conclusions: This study indicates that dog-assisted programmes with a therapeutic aim might be beneficial for prisoners. However, the inconsistent results indicate that more research is needed to determine the potential and limits of animal-assisted programmes in forensic settings.

Original languageEnglish
Article number10553
Pages (from-to)1-18
Number of pages18
JournalInternational Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health
Issue number17
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2022


  • animal-assisted intervention
  • dog
  • emotional competence
  • prison
  • social competence


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