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How Therapy Dogs Contribute to Mental and Emotional Wellness

Updated: 3 days ago

It’s no secret that dogs bring a lot of joy and contentment into our lives, but recently the idea of therapy dogs has gained significant traction as a way to improve our wellbeing. This form of treatment is a powerful tool that helps promote mental and emotional wellness in individuals.

Canine assisted therapy uses interactions with dogs to help improve individuals' physical, social, emotional, and cognitive functions. Dogs, known for their unconditional love and companionship, have a unique ability to provide comfort, reduce stress, and bring joy to people's lives. So in this article, we’ll learn how therapy dogs contribute to mental and emotional wellness.

The Bond Between Humans and Dogs

A woman and her dog

The foundation of animal assisted therapy lies in the deep bond between humans and dogs, a lasting relationship dating back thousands of years. Dogs are attuned to human behaviour and emotions, capable of reading facial expressions, body language, and even changes in scent related to different emotional states.

This sensitivity allows dogs to respond in a supportive manner, often providing comfort without needing words. This connection fosters a sense of companionship and promotes a therapeutic environment conducive to healing and emotional support.

Stress Reduction and Relaxation

One of the most immediate benefits of therapy dogs is their ability to reduce stress and promote relaxation. Interacting with dogs has been shown to decrease levels of cortisol, the stress hormone, in the human body.

Moreover, the simple act of petting a dog can increase the production of serotonin and dopamine, neurotransmitters associated with happiness and tranquillity. These biochemical changes can lead to a reduction in stress, anxiety, and depression - making therapy dogs an effective complement to traditional mental health treatments.

Enhancing Social Interaction

Therapy dogs are also a strong tool for enhancing social interaction and reducing feelings of loneliness and isolation. Dogs can act as social lubricants, facilitating interactions among people. In settings such as hospitals, schools, and nursing homes, the presence of a therapy dog can encourage communication and foster a sense of community among individuals who may otherwise feel disconnected.

For people with social anxiety or difficulties in socialising, dogs provide a non-judgmental presence that can ease the pressure of human interaction, making social situations more manageable.

Improving Physical Health

While the focus of canine assisted therapy is often on mental and emotional wellness, it also contributes to physical health improvements. Activities such as walking or playing with a dog can increase physical activity levels, which is beneficial for cardiovascular health and weight management.

Dogs also have calming effects, which can lower blood pressure and heart rate - further supporting overall physical well-being. These physical health benefits can, in turn, enhance mental health by improving energy levels, sleep quality, and reducing physical symptoms of stress and anxiety.

Emotional Support and Empathy

Dogs have an innate ability to provide emotional support and demonstrate empathy towards humans. They can sense when their owners or individuals they interact with are sad, anxious, or distressed, and often respond with comforting behaviours such as cuddling, nuzzling, or simply sitting close by.

This form of non-verbal support can be incredibly reassuring and healing for individuals going through difficult times. The unconditional love and acceptance dogs offer can help build self-esteem, foster resilience, and provide a sense of being understood and valued.

Therapeutic Applications in Various Settings

Animal assisted therapy has found its place in a wide range of settings, each with unique benefits. In educational environments, therapy dogs can help reduce student stress, improve concentration, and enhance learning outcomes. In healthcare settings, they comfort patients undergoing medical treatments, aid recovery, and contribute to a more positive atmosphere.

Mental health professionals also incorporate therapy dogs into treatment plans for conditions such as PTSD, depression, and autism, witnessing significant improvements in patient engagement and well-being.

Harnessing the Healing Power of Dogs

The bond between humans and dogs is a powerful catalyst for emotional comfort, stress relief, and social connection. As research continues to unveil the benefits of animal-assisted therapies, therapy dogs are gaining recognition as a valuable complement to traditional mental health treatments. Whether through reducing stress, enhancing social interaction, improving physical health, or providing emotional support, dogs have a remarkable ability to touch lives and foster well-being. 

If you’d like to learn more about how canine assisted therapy, or would like to take part in therapy dogs training courses, please contact our team at Therapy Dog Training UK today.

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