There are over 50,000 trained therapy dogs in the U.S., which proves animal therapy is not a new phenomenon. It has existed for centuries, owing to the unique ability of animals to motivate, aid, and guide human beings of all ages. Therapy dogs, in particular, are relied upon to help with a host of issues—including PTSD, cerebral palsy, ADHD, autism, depression, physical therapy, and more. Recent research indicates that dog therapy can help improve mental health and wellbeing, encourage children to read and focus on work, and motivate people to complete physical therapy tasks. Read on to discover just a few of the many surprising ways that dogs can enhance one’s quality of life.
Dogs Can Boost Physical Activity of Children with Disabilities
The most common disability type is that of mobility and it affects one in four people in the U.S. One group of disorders that can affect one’s ability to move is cerebral palsy (CP), which can also affect posture and balance. When diagnosing cerebral palsy, doctors perform a range of tests to measure the effect of the disorder on one’s movement, vision, hearing, and more. Therapy often involves a range of physical, occupational, and speech therapy. A 2015 study showed that dog-assisted therapies and activities helped children with this disorder reduce their fears and anxieties, set goals, and strategize the required means to achieve these goals. Researchers found that dogs boosted children’s empathy and enhanced their ability to receive and give help.
Therapy Dogs to Battle Stress
Dogs have a unique ability to calm human beings and enable them to keep their mind in the present moment. A 2020 study published in Academic Emergency Medicine found that dog therapy benefited physicians and nurses working stressful evening shifts in the ER. In the study, emergency staff simply enjoyed a five-minute reaction with a therapy dog and handler, with findings showing that they enjoyed a significantly greater reduction in self-reported stress than staff who colored mandalas for the same period of time.
Dogs can reduce the need for pain medication after joint-replacement surgery, as found by researchers from the Loyola University Health System. In the study, participants who had had a total joint replacement received daily visits from trained dogs, with each visit lasting between five and 15 minutes. “The animal-human connection is powerful in reducing stress and in generating a sense of well-being,” said lead researcher J. Harvey.
Dogs Can Soothe Anxiety and Loneliness
Georgia State University academics have found that dog-assisted therapy can reduce levels of anxiety and loneliness experienced by college students. In the study, students were invited to visit twice-monthly group sessions and interact with a therapy dog for as long as they desired (with a two-hour maximum). They were allowed to brush, photograph, embrace, and play with the dog. The results showed that the presence of a dog could enhance the therapeutic connection between a person and the mental health professional. Since anxiety and loneliness are on the rise among college students, dog-assisted therapy can therefore be seen as an optimal way to reduce stress naturally.
There are approximately half a million trained therapy dogs in the US that help people with a vast array of diseases, conditions, and disorders. Dogs have a calming effect on human beings, thereby helping them stay focused during physical therapy and other sessions. Dogs can also help battle loneliness, anxiety, and other problems faced by college students and indeed, people of all ages.