By H. Davis
Sometimes when you find yourself a bit down, all it takes is a lick to the face or a furry hug to lift your spirits. But what if your stress runs deep, and you find yourself anxious and nervous to leave the house, or even suicidal? Can a dog still help you reconnect with the world around you?
Service dogs normally provide assistance to those with hearing or visual impairment as well as mobility issues. Some can even help predict low blood sugar or activate an emergency alarm when someone is experiencing a seizure. In addition to these traditional service roles, therapy dogs are now helping people in new and amazing ways.
Trained therapy dogs, for example, can provide emotional support for people going through difficult situations, and with more than 16 million Americans reporting having a depressive episode in 2015, the extra help is always needed.
There are many stories about how dogs have helped individuals with depression; Julia Barton’s memoir, Dog Medicine, is among the best known. What makes the story even more exciting is that formal research also shows that therapy and companion pets are extremely effective when it comes to treating depression and anxiety, as well as improving overall health. In other words, this is a concept that’s quickly catching on as more people are starting to recognize the incredible healing effects dogs can have on humans.
How Dogs Help Humans Suffering From PTSD Stay Connected to the World around Them
A dog’s gentle nature makes them the perfect treatment when it comes to helping individuals with PTSD, which is why programs have started relying on therapy dogs to provide companionship. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), is an anxiety disorder that’s triggered by a traumatic event in a person’s life and can cause temporary mood swings, severe anxiety, and flashbacks or nightmares. Needless to say, this disorder has a devastating impact on individuals and their families.
Clinically, there is not enough research yet to know if dogs actually help treat PTSD, but there are proven emotional benefits to having a furry friend right next to you. When someone is suffering from this type of disorder, for instance, a dog can sense it and bring comfort by awakening them from a nightmare. This reduces anxiety in public places and even encourages them to leave the house on the day-to-day basis. Having a companion who helps provide a sense security can also help cope with daily tasks and build a sense of normalcy as they work through their treatment program.
Visiting People in Hospitals and Hospice
Coming to terms with your own terminal illnesses or that of a loved one who’s battled with the most common invasive cancer in females worldwide , or heart disease or leukemia is without a doubt one of the most difficult things a person can go through. That’s why hospitals offer a special opportunity for therapy dogs to help individuals through these difficult times. Patients appreciate a warm and loving distraction from pain and worries, as well as the depression and boredom that can result in a long hospital stay. In the long run, family members appreciate these moments.
The waiting room provides another opportunity for therapy dogs to serve. Family and friends spend countless hours waiting during patient’s surgery, all the time worrying about the outcome. A therapy dog can help ease the tension.
Mental and Physical Therapy
Although there are many different ways in which therapy dog work is conducted, a significant distinction is typically made for those activities in which a health professional is directly involved with the treatment program.
The term animal-assisted activities (AAA) is used to describe activities which involve only the handler, their dog, and of course, the client. Some examples include visits to patients while they’re in the hospital and residence in retirement homes.
Animal-assisted therapy (AAT), on the other hand, operates differently since it’s conducted by a health professional who uses the dog in providing their services to the client. Generally speaking, the session includes the health professional, the client, a therapy dog, and its handler.
These sessions are designed to achieve specific goals and are documented by the health professional to record both the activity, and the progress being made.
- In mental therapy, the dog is seen as a friend and companion, thus presenting a safe environment for sharing. The therapist present during the session helps the patient work towards a specific goal that includes: improving their memory, concentration, and problem-solving skills.
- In physical therapy, patients are encouraged to improve motor skills and focus on their mobility and balance through various exercises.
The Benefits of Spending Time with a Therapy Dog
Spending time with dogs can produce an enormous amount of improvements in a person’s life, affecting their physical, mental, emotional, and social well-being.
Stress, for example, can lead to overproduction of stress hormones, increasing blood pressure, heart rate, and the chance of having a heart attack or stroke. As a matter of fact, stress has become one of America’s leading health concern.
A visit from a therapy dog does a lot to reverse this process and helps minimize the chance of experiencing stress.
As previously stated, a visit from a service dog can:
- Decrease patients stress and anxiety levels, especially veterans and other individuals who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder.
- Increase patient’s mental stimulation, attention skills, and social interactions.
- Increase patient’s self-esteem and feeling of acceptance by those around them.
- Decrease patient’s depression, loneliness, and feelings of isolation.
Even in our darkest moments, we can find strength with the help of a furry companion. The best part is that not only humans benefit from this friendship, the dog does too.
Thanks for taking the time to read this article. I’m curious to know, what are some other ways therapy dogs can help people connect with the world around them? Feel free to leave comments below.
About the author: H. Davis is a freelance writer who enjoys exploring the outdoors. If you can’t find him online, you might be able to catch him at the gym or watching sports (Go, Denver!). Follow him on Twitter at @Davis241. Thanks!