Comparison of contingent and noncontingent access to therapy dogs during academic tasks in children with autism spectrum disorder

Alexandra Protopopova, Texas Tech University.
Ashley L. Matter, Texas Tech University.
Breanna N. Harris, Texas Tech University.
Katie M. Wiskow, California State University, Stanislaus.
Jeanne M. Donaldson, Louisiana State University.


This study compared contingent and noncontingent access to therapy dogs during educational tasks for children with autism spectrum disorder using a multielement design. The experimenters assessed whether initial preference for the dog predicted reinforcer efficacy and how preference changed across time. A higher response rate during contingent dog sessions than baseline sessions occurred for 4 out of 5 participants, suggesting that the dog functioned as a reinforcer. One participant engaged in a high rate of responding in both contingent and noncontingent dog conditions. Preference assessments revealed idiosyncrasies, suggesting that further research is needed into the predictive nature of initial preference assessments with animals as part of the stimulus array. The experimenters also analyzed salivary cortisol before and after sessions to determine if learning about the upcoming interaction with a dog reduced salivary cortisol in children. Cortisol was variable across participants, with only some deriving a potential physiological benefit from expecting to interact with the dog.