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Abstract

Despite a long history of service dogs (SDs) being paired with human partners as a systematic intervention and increasing numbers of and roles for SDs, there remains a lack of empirical knowledge and professional guidance regarding the implementation of SDs into treatment plans for individuals with disabilities. The purpose of this scoping review was to review the peer-reviewed literature specific to SDs and their handlers, to identify successful search term strategies, and to determine in what disciplines research is being conducted. Terminology used in referring to service dogs continues to be a challenge. Through a series of preliminary searches, search terms and search methodologies were established and 259 articles published from 1958 through 2019 were identified, reviewed, and coded. Identified articles were further categorized into those describing knowledge and context, management and health care, handler and team elements, and a combination of these factors. Because many of the identified articles focused specifically on guide dogs and teams, articles were further coded and grouped on SD type (e.g., guide dog, hearing dog, autism support dog, etc.). Much of the current literature focuses on history, legal and policy discussions, and the health and management of service dogs. Relatively few articles (24) have been published specifically on service dog teams and handler support, and all of those identified were specific to guide dogs. Gaps in research were identified, including areas such as cross-discipline research, diverse disability demographics of handlers, types of service dogs, and the mental state of SDs themselves. While the literature is expanding on the topic of SDs (over half of the articles were published in the past 6 years of the search time frame), continued research is needed, particularly in the area of SD handler experiences and guidelines for service providers.

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