The emotions and feelings experienced by guide dog owners in the application, training and working of their guide dogs

Author: Christopher Muldoon

Muldoon, Christopher, 2022 The emotions and feelings experienced by guide dog owners in the application, training and working of their guide dogs, Flinders University, College of Nursing and Health Sciences

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The guide dog is recognised worldwide as serving a primary role in providing safe, effective mobility for a person who is blind or vision impaired and can be the mobility aid of choice for a number of reasons (Gravrok et al., 2018; IGDF, 2011; Li et al., 2019). One reason is the relationship established between the guide dog owner and their guide dog, which can be a deciding factor for the choice to pursue guide dog mobility over other choices, such as the long cane or the use of technology to achieve independent mobility.

There is a dearth of research and associated literature investigating the emotions and feelings of people who are blind or vision impaired in their journey to guide dog mobility, in particular across the longitudinal process of applying for, training and working with a guide dog. Whilst recognising the primary role of the guide dog as a mobility aid, the purpose of this study was to stipulate the existence of a secondary role, by exploring the impact of a guide dog on the emotional wellbeing of guide dog owners. In doing so, this study sought to explore how the guide dog contributed to emotional wellbeing, for those who are blind or vision impaired across the process of applying for, training, and ultimately working with a guide dog. It was intended that the conclusions arrived at in this study would support in reflecting upon the wider significance of emotional wellbeing, framing and informing the work of organisations supporting those who are blind or vision impaired.

This longitudinal study adopted a phenomenological theoretical perspective to support an understanding of the lived experience of guide dog ownership, more specifically the impact of a guide dog on the emotional wellbeing of guide dog owners. A mixed (predominantly qualitative) methods approach was applied. Data were collected using semi-structured interviews and a Beck Depression Inventory (BDI) questionnaire. Following an initial pilot study to determine the feasibility of the chosen methods, a main study of six participants from South Australia who are blind or vision impaired took place during the years 2011-2014. The main study collected data at four key milestones; the application process, the training with a guide dog, six months post training and twelve months post training. Findings of the study were presented as case studies, followed by thematic analysis examining self-reported emotions and feelings experienced throughout the longitudinal process. Results indicate the presence of factors that challenged participant’s emotional wellbeing in the earlier milestones (application and training), however participants reported a substantially higher incidence of emotions and feelings associated with a more positive affect at the final milestone where they had been working with their guide dog for twelve months. This was largely due to the way participants’ expressed the value of the guide dog in addressing challenges with daily living due to blindness or vision impairment, which contributed to feelings of increased confidence, independence, security and companionship. The recognition of the less-established secondary role of the guide dog in contributing to improved emotional wellbeing was also evidenced in a reduction in BDI scores and self-reported emotions and feelings of depression in the majority of participants, from the point of application to working with the guide dog for twelve months post-qualification.

This thesis is the first longitudinal study undertaken in Australia investigating the emotional complexities of guide dog mobility and provided valuable information in assessing the potential impact on emotional wellbeing that is evident in working with a dog guide.

Keywords: Guide Dog, blindness, vision impairment, emotions, feelings, Assistance Dog, depression, Blind, Sight loss

Subject: Disability Studies thesis

Thesis type: Doctor of Philosophy
Completed: 2022
School: College of Nursing and Health Sciences
Supervisor: Dr Fiona Rillotta