Occupational therapists have recognized the benefits that service dogs can provide people with disabilities. There are many anecdotal publications extolling the benefits of working with service dogs, but few rigorous studies exist to provide the evidence of the usefulness of this type of assistive technology option. This systematic review evaluates the published research that supports the use of service dogs for people with mobility-related physical disabilities.
Articles were identified by computerized search of PubMed, CINAHL, PsycINFO, OT Seeker, the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, SportDiscus, Education Research Complete, Public Administration Abstracts, Web of Knowledge and Academic Search Premier databases with no date range specified. The keywords used in the search included disabled persons, assistance dogs or service dogs and mobility impairments. The reference lists of the research papers were checked as was the personal citation database of the lead author. Twelve studies met the inclusion criteria and whereas the findings are promising, they are inconclusive and limited because of the level of evidence, which included one Level I, six Level III, four Level IV and one Level V. All of the studies reviewed had research design quality concerns including small participant sizes, poor descriptions of the interventions, outcome measures with minimal psychometrics and lack of power calculations. Findings indicated three major themes including social/participation, functional and psychological outcomes; all of which are areas in the occupational therapy scope of practice. Occupational therapists may play a critical role in referral, assessment, assisting clients and consulting with training organizations before, during and after the service dog placement process. In order for health care professionals to have confidence in recommending this type of assistive technology, the evidence to support such decisions must be strengthened. Copyright © 2011 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.