Therapeutic Benefits of Having a Dog
In a high-stress environment having a dog can make a world of a difference. Many Americans have demanding jobs and coming home to a furry companion has a positive impact on their emotional well-being. “Dogs make people feel good and their only job is to help people in stressful situations feel better. Many people seem to respond to dogs in a positive way,’’ says Brian Hare, an associate professor of cognitive neuroscience at Duke University. He even points out that dogs are now found in courtrooms, schools, hospitals, nursing homes, airports, and many other places along with their owners.
Research has shown that oxytocin levels rise in both humans and dogs when interacting with one another. Oxytocin is a hormone that stimulates social bonding, relaxation and trust, and easing stress. Scientists believe oxytocin to be the main source of people’s positive reactions to pets. This is why dogs are great for stressful situations.
Dogs Helping Throughout History
There are many stories throughout history that show the therapeutic effects dogs have on people physically and psychologically. Ancient Egypt believed a dog’s lick could heal sores or lesions. During 1880, Florence Nightingale, a former Civil War nurse stated that a small pet “is often an excellent companion for the sick, for long chronic cases especially.” Many dogs were also companions to soldiers during the Civil War in order to lift their spirits.
Even more recently research has found, from a 1980 study, that more heart attack victims with pets survived beyond the one year mark than those without. There have been other studies that reveal pet ownership decreases coronary-disease risk factors like blood pressure, cholesterol, and triglycerides. Which should be no surprise since having a dog makes pet owners more physically active than those without a pet.
Dogs Heal the Soul
Pets, dogs especially, can be very helpful for people facing emotional difficulties. “Dogs have a positive impact on depression and anxiety,” says Lori Kogan, an associate professor of clinical sciences at the Colorado State University and editor of the Human-Animal Interaction Bulletin. This is a big reason why therapy dogs have become a big aid to those with mental health issues. They’re trained to help people deal with worry, unhappiness, and anxiety.
Therapy dogs have been a great help for soldiers dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder, giving them a loving companionship to help deal with their emotional pain. Additionally, some therapy dogs are used to help calm down autistic children. This past June therapy dogs were seen at the U.S. Olympic trials as a way for competing swimmers to relax. After the Pulse shooting therapy dogs were brought to Orlando to comfort survivors and those grieving for their loved ones.
Dogs and Companionship
Dogs are helpful companions and are frequently a substitution for those lacking other human companionship. Which is why so many elderly homes are allowing dogs now. “When someone loses a spouse or partner, for example, having a dog provides a reason to get up and be social,” says Kogan. And for some older people “it’s the only relationship they have.” Dogs are a positive motivator for many people that are lonely or grieving, and those dealing with physical pains.
Of course when it comes to dogs there are times when they can bring difficulty. Particularly if they’re sick or misbehaving. “Dogs are just like kids: They can be the source of enormous joy and enormous worry,” says Hare. However, most pet owners, including Hare, will say the moments of happiness far outweigh any stress pets may bring.