Graduation Date


Document Type

Master's Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Science in Occupational Therapy

Department or Program

Occupational Therapy

Department or Program Chair

Julia Wilbarger PhD, OTR/L

First Reader

Kitsum Li, OTD, OTR/L, CSRS

Second Reader

Karen McCarthy, PhD, OT/L


Guide dogs have been shown to be an effective assistive device that can help older adults with low vision navigate their community and improve overall well-being. Despite vast research conducted on pet therapy and dog companionship, limited research exists on the facilitators and barriers of owning a dog guide among older adults with low vision. The purpose of this qualitative phenomenological study is to explore the facilitators and barriers of owning a guide dog as experienced by older adults with low vision participating in Guide Dogs for the Blind (GDB) organization. Data were gathered among seven participants using semi-structured phone interviews and themes were extracted. Five themes emerged using constant comparison methods: changes in habits and routines, being a dog guide owner, increase in community integration, human-dog guide bonding, and guide dog enhances autonomy. Participants’ increased confidence from using their guide dog contributed to further engagement in unfamiliar environments, thus improving self-esteem, freedom, and autonomy. Themes revealed that using a guide dog for the first time required adjustments in daily habits and routines to fit the guide dog’s lifestyle. Moreover, participants felt calmer and safer with the guide dogs resulting in a reciprocal bond with their guide dogs. Study results provide health practitioners, such as occupational therapists (OTs), insight to how guide dogs may affect the daily living patterns and quality of life of older adults with low vision. Additionally, study results provide insight for GDB and OTs into improving support and training processes.