Open Access

Social-cognition and dog-human interactions: Is there potential for therapeutic-interventions for the disability sector?


The notion that dog-human interactions have the potential to mitigate impacts concerning the delay of typical development of social skills in humans is a novel concept. Research evidence concerning three aspects of social-cognition: sensory perception of social-cues, theory of mind and learning social-schemas, were reviewed with the scope to explore this notion. Literature from two different fields of research inquiry: animal-behaviour and neuroscience, was evaluated. Emerging from the animal-behavioural studies’ review was that aspects of dog behaviour could be a functional analogue of human behaviour (e.g. perception of social-cues). Neuroscience research theories concerning the functional role of the mirror neuron system in social-cognition in humans were evaluated against evidence from animal-behavioural studies investigating the relationship between dogs and children with socio-communicative developmental delays (e.g. vision impairment, Autism). It emerged that both fields of research suggested that through “embodied simulations” an alternative (e.g. to language and/or vision) approach to acquiring knowledge concerning the world of social interactions may be possible for individuals who present with developmental delays of social-competence. Within this context it is suggested that dog-human interactions may provide learning opportunities for development of social-competence in individuals with vision impairment. Implications for practice for the disability sector and specific examples for professionals who work with individuals who have vision impairment and assistance/therapy dogs are discussed.

Publication timeframe:
Volume Open
Journal Subjects:
Medicine, Clinical Medicine, Physical and Rehabilitation Medicine