Reducing the Affective Filter: Using Canine Assisted Therapy to Support International University Students’ English Language Development

John-Tyler Binfet, Megan L. Trotman, Heinrich D. Henstock, Haley J. Silas


This exploratory mixed-methods study examined the influence of an on-campus canine therapy program on linguistically diverse international students’ perceptions of their English language development and stress. Participants were recruited from English language support classes at a mid-size western Canadian university and were randomly selected from a larger pool of participants indicating interest in the study. Seven participants attended five canine therapy sessions in which they interacted with certified therapy dogs working as part of a campus initiative to reduce stress and homesickness on campus. Both formative and summative data collection was done with students completing weekly stress assessments, responding to summative questions asked in an interview, and elaborating on their views in a focus group discussion. The following key themes emerged with students describing: 1) decreased overall stress; 2) improvements in their sense of belonging in the campus community with dogs as social catalysts; and 3) increased opportunities to practice oral language skills through interactions with dog handlers and fellow students in the lab. Implications are discussed within the context of reducing the affective filter for language learners and increasing accessibility to programs for international students.


English as an Additional Language, animal-assisted therapy, university students, language development, affective filter

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Copyright (c) 2016 John-Tyler Binfet, Megan L. Trotman, Heinrich D. Henstock, Haley J. Silas

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