Date of Award


Document Type

Doctoral Research Paper

Degree Name


Organizational Unit

Graduate School of Professional Psychology

First Advisor

John McNeill

Second Advisor

Peter Buirski

Third Advisor

Samantha McBride


Animal-assisted therapy, Canine-assisted therapy, Exposure therapy


Fear and anxiety are natural reactions to actual threat conditions but can become “pathological” when over-generalized avoidance interferes with long-term wellbeing and valued living. Pervasive experiential avoidance hinders natural extinction processes as it reduces repeated contact with feared stimuli, a condition necessary for extinction to occur. Exposure therapy (ET) is a clinical analogue of extinction, and one of the best evidence-based treatments for fear and anxiety. However, ET’s usefulness suffers in real-world clinical conditions. The current conceptual paper proposes that ET’s limitations may be overcome through a tailored approach that integrates animal-assisted therapy (AAT), specifically the use of dogs, to incorporate the judicious use of safety conditions during ET. This paper posits that these procedural adjustments might enhance ET’s perceived acceptability by clients and therapists, offer flexibility in use for individual clinical presentations, and amplify long-term treatment gains, thereby targeting some of ET’s current limitations that keep the promise of this approach from those who may benefit from it.

Copyright Statement / License for Reuse

Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 International License.

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46 pgs