The effects of service dogs on social acknowledgments of people in wheelchairs.

J. Eddy, Lynette A Hart, R. P. Boltz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

112 Scopus citations


Able-bodied people often exhibit behaviors that show them to be socially uncomfortable upon encountering a physically disabled stranger. These behaviors include less eye contact, gaze avoidance, greater personal distance, and briefer social interactions. This study examined whether persons in wheelchairs with service dogs receive more frequent social acknowledgement from able-bodied strangers than people in wheelchairs without dogs receive. Behaviors of passersby were recorded by an observer who followed a person in a wheelchair at a distance of 15 to 30 feet. Observations were made in public areas amid pedestrian traffic, areas such as shopping malls and a college campus. The behaviors of passersby to the person in a wheelchair, with or without a service dog, were recorded, including smiles, conversation, touch, gaze aversion, path avoidance, or no response. Results indicated that both smiles and conversations from passersby increased significantly when the dogs were present. These findings suggest that the benefits of service dogs for their owners extend beyond working tasks to include enhanced opportunities for social exchange. The service dogs substantially reduced the tendency of able-bodied people to ignore or avoid the disabled person.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)39-45
Number of pages7
JournalThe Journal of psychology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1988

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychology(all)


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