It is difficult to overestimate the social and psychological significance of human-animal interactions. Till now, studies on human-companion animal interactions primarily focussed on positive aspects and relationships, while studies on animal phobias have almost exclusively focussed on spider and snake phobia. The problem with negative human-animal relationships in general, and animal phobia in particular, is in essence a superficial understanding of the determination of physiological changes and parameters associated with its description and treatment. The main aim of this study was to provide theoretical and physiological information regarding the determination of a biochemical parameter which can be used to enhance effective diagnosis and treatment of individuals suffering from dog phobia. A trimodal approach was followed to describe anxiety and fear responses associated with dog phobia. Subjects were assigned to two groups: an experimental group consisting of females suffering from dog phobia, and a control group. The study consisted of three experimental stages: the first stage (resting stage) measured baseline values, the second stage (preintervention stage) measured values in the presence of a dog stimulus prior to the intervention program, and the third stage (postintervention stage) measured values in the presence of a dog stimulus after completion of the intervention program. Cognitive-affective aspects were initially measured by means of the Fear Survey Schedule, as well as by means of an anxiety scale and stressor schedule during the experimental stages. Motor-behavioural aspects were measured as the termination distance of the dog approach during the pre- and postintervention stages, as well as assessed by a psychologist through direct observation of non-verbal communication cues during the behavioural approach tests. The measurement of physiological aspects focussed on the determination of plasma adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) levels during the experimental stages. The main results were as follow: • the experimental group scored significantly higher average scores on the animal, dog, blood/injection and total fear categories of the Fear Survey Schedule than the control group; • the intervention program was effective in treating motor-behavioural and cognitive¬affective aspects of the phobia response; • the effect of the intervention program on the plasma ACTH-Ievels was inconclusive. No significant differences were found between the experimental group's average plasma ACTH-Ievels during the experimental stages, as well as between the experimental and control groups during the resting and preintervention stages. The average plasma ACTH-Ievels of the control group was significantly lower than that of the experimental group during the postintervention stage; • total stressor schedule values suggest that subjects in the experimental group have a predisposition to be generally more anxious and fearful than subjects in the control group; • two-thirds of the dog phobia subjects reported classical conditioning as the etiological pathway; • various auditory and visual cues were found to be the focal point of perception in women suffering from dog phobia; and • group qualitatively evaluated their current fear level for dogs as substantially lower than at the onset of the project. In conclusion, the determination of plasma ACTH-Ievels as a single parameter is not adequate to support the complex interaction between overt motor-behavioural, cognitive-affective and physiological patterns during the treatment of women experiencing dog phobia.
Dissertation (MSc (Veterinary Ethology))--University of Pretoria, 2007.