Animal Assisted Therapy with Dogs

by drlazarus on February 3, 2013

It’s no secret that humans have long shared a special bond with dogs– perhaps even for as long as Homo-sapiens has been around as a species.

But did you know that our association with dogs actually offers a number of mental, emotional and physical benefits?

Anyone who has a pet dog might not be quite as shocked by this news; after all, as a pet owner, you’re probably already well aware of the unconditional love, non-judgmental acceptance, and unquestioning loyalty that dogs offer. You’ve likely also noticed the feelings of calm, peace and safe relaxation that you get when you’re spending time with your pet.

That’s just one of the reasons why animal assisted therapist services are growing in popularity. As the field expands, researchers are exploring the many benefits of pet therapy – and the results of these studies may surprise you!

Psychological Benefits of Pet Therapy and Therapy Dogs

Spending time with therapy dogs produces a number of mental health benefits, from enhanced relaxation to reduced stress and anxiety. Therapy dogs, or carefully selected dogs that undergo intense, individualized training, are used in a range of mental health settings. The animal assisted therapist can help many different issues.

With pet therapy, veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder — or PTSD — learn how to relax, overcome feelings of agitation, and deal with anxiety.

Children who’ve experienced abuse or neglect or who live with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), autism, or attention-deficit-hyperactivity (ADHD) find a warm, loving friend that they can hold and pet – and that helps them to feel calm.

The research agrees; one study found that spending just 12 minutes with a therapy dog lowered anxiety by 24% and reduced levels of the stress hormone epinephrine by 17%.

Other studies indicate that exposure to therapy dogs can:

  • Alleviate stress
  • Promotes self-reliance and altruistic behavior
  • Reduce feelings of isolation and loneliness
  • Create feelings of trust, bonding and rapport
  • Help develop feelings of empathy for others

Physiological Benefits

But the benefits of pet therapy aren’t just psychological – sessions with an animal assisted therapist can actually make you healthier! Studies show that being around therapy dogs results in physiological benefits such as:

  • Lowered blood pressure
  • Decreased heart rate
  • Reduced risk of asthma
  • Eased Alzheimer’s symptoms
  • Lowered cholesterol and triglyceride levels

Pet therapy also makes the therapy process itself more relaxing. Starting therapy can feel awkward or even intimidating, but a warm, furry presence helps you to feel calm and safe. Dr. Steven Lazarus and his therapy dog, Zeke — a hypo-allergenic Labradoodle — provide a unique, friendly, and comfortable approach to dealing with issues.

See also:

15 Reasons Animal Assisted Therapy Works

The Furry Therapist

 

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