Access Type

Open Access Thesis

Date of Award

January 2014

Degree Type


Degree Name




First Advisor

Rita J. Casey


This study is a randomized-controlled trial of a specific animal-assisted therapy (AAT) called Teacher's Pet (TP) with incarcerated youth. The intervention was expected to result in increased empathy and reduced internalizing and externalizing behavior problems as compared to the control. Dog attachment was theorized to be the mechanism for the increased empathy and reduced behavior problems. In addition, due to the attachment-based nature of the intervention, it was hypothesized that those with a history maltreatment/foster care would benefit the most. Participants were138 youth at two Midwestern juvenile detention facilities. The TP intervention trained dogs for one hour, twice weekly for 10 weeks. The Dog Walking (DW) control group walked but did not train dogs for the same duration. Both groups participated in a one hour, twice weekly animal education class for 10 weeks. Results showed a significant increase in both staff and youth reported internalizing behavior problems regardless of group. A significant increase in empathy, regardless of group, was also observed. Dog attachment was not established as a mechanism for the changes observed. There may be a greater increase in empathy for those with a history of maltreatment/foster care when compared to those without. In sum, the combination of time spent with dogs, with or without doing dog training, and animal didactics may increase empathy in incarcerated youth. The increased internalizing symptoms could be attributed to youth gaining greater awareness of emotions, being saddened to no longer be interacting with animals, or greater time incarcerated at post intervention. Additional follow-up of these youth and other comparison groups are needed.

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Psychology Commons