Can Dogs Help with Anxiety?- Is it a Myth or are they really mood Busters?

Therapy Dog

Who can Help You with Your Anxiety & Depression

And Can A Dog Really Help with Anxiety?

The medical profession have stated that it’s a proven fact, your dog (or cat) will lower the rate of your beating heart when you are stressed, it says the act of stroking and the continual and perpetual motion will calm a troubled soul. Regularly continue this intervention and it will have lasting effects

 

But is it not also true that  “Grounding” Meditation, knitting, laughing Positive Thinking, etc and a myriad of activities also help with anxiety? How can a visiting dog possibly help?

 

Can The Evidence be Trusted

 

The medical profession says many things and have been known to contradict their own findings. (Remember the soft-boiled egg fiasco back in the 80’s) or how Dr Mosley has proven that in some cases fasting for short periods is not only good, It actually helps with weight loss yet previously and not so long ago Fasting was always seen as the enemy.  Another medical conundrum is the value of juicing whilst we have no medical findings about the value of juicing Jason Vale and others can categorically prove juicing can and does improve your health. So just how do we rely on what does and doesn’t work for us, especially in the field of Mental Health which has long been under scrutiny.

 

What’s Changed?

 

Until recently Pet Therapy was something used only in nursing homes or occasionally with children who suffer mental illness like Asperger or Autism, but it had never been used in a more formal environment like someone suffering with  PTSD or trauma and certainly not in a custodial setting.

So it is doubtful that somebody who has suffered abuse or indeed a criminal in custody would get any benefit from a pet dog especially when they struggle with the “day to day” of living. In addition what kind of Dog would feel able to visit such a place, surely not the pet lap dog that I once met in my grandmothers nursing home. It was indeed a beautiful white Lhasa Apso 8 year old female dog called Poppy, she was happy to be handed from lap to lap. Afterwards it was agreed that Poppy was a lovely intervention. But did she honestly make a difference? Perhaps yes

 

Service Dog or Therapy Dog- What’s the Difference

 

found this wonderfully explained article online
Alliance American Therapy Web site, Therapydogs.com
Which explains the difference

Service Dogs are trained to perform tasks and to do work that eases their handlers’ disabilities. Working as part of a team with Law enforcement, the military or people with disabilities and dogs help them attain safety and independence. It is very important to note that these dogs are not for petting as it could prevent them from performing their job correctly. Most service dogs have a “no petting” policy established by their owners.

Army Service Dog

 

 

 

So What is a Therapy Dog?

 

Therapy dogs also receive training but have a completely different type of job from service dogs. Their responsibilities are to provide psychological or physiological therapy to individuals other than their handlers. These dogs have stable temperaments and friendly, easy-going personalities. Typically, they visit hospitals, schools, hospices, nursing homes and more. Unlike service dogs, therapy dogs are encouraged to interact with a variety of people while they are on-duty including petting the therapy dog.

Ground soldier with dog
When a service Dog becomes a Therapy Dog

 

Therapy dogs may also visit schools, daycare, group homes and rehabilitation centers. Their roles vary from dogs who give learning disabled children the confidence to read out loud, to actively participating in physical rehabilitation therapy. In some cases, a therapy dog will work in an establishment exclusively, such as a psychotherapy practice.

Therapy dogs may be trained by just about anyone, but must meet set standards to be certified and registered and actively participate in the program. They are usually handled by their owners, but in some cases of Animal Assisted Therapy, the therapy dog may be handled by a trained professional.

 

Does Your Dog Have Therapeutic Skills? 

 

You may have considered your dog to be a Potential Therapy Dog,  Not all dogs can but a therapeutic source but  certainly it’s worth considering if you have a calm and gentle natured loving dog together with  time required to devote to training. It’s not such a leap. I think all of us dog owners think our dog is special and have a lot to offer. I found a useful book on Amazon, Called Dog Therapy

Not too expensive and is a really helpful book

Whilst this post is written for and about how and if a Dog can help someone with anxiety and or depression you may be interested in finding out  how you could qualify for a Service Dog.

So How Would You  Go About Getting  A Service Dog?
When you hear the term service dog, you imagine some highly trained canine that can open a tin can at the click of a finger, but surprisingly service dogs come in all sorts of roles and training levels. So in the first instance
    1. Determine which mental disability you may suffer from.
    2. Choose the type of animal to adopt.
    3. Connect with a licensed mental health professional.
    4. Properly use your ESA letter. (Emotional Support Animal
    5. a/ Ask Your Doctor for ESA Letter
    6. Get Your ESA Letter Online.
    7. Know Your Rights as an Emotional Support Dog Owner
    8. How to Find the Right Online Source for an ESA Letter.

 

The US has a lot of online support.  Good place to start in the US is with. http://www.usservice.animals.org

In the UK there are a number of charities who support the application

http://www.assistancedogs.org.uk/ is a good start

 

My personal experience of our own Therapy Dog

 

Isla is a big 4-year old Bull Mastiff, she is gentle she is calm and she comes to work in an environment which is chaotic, sometimes violent, always loud and her clients’ are all men. How does she and her handler cope?

Many of the clients’ have deep psychological problems, most have mental health disorders like PTSD and will often suffer addiction. Some have not seen a dog for many years and some had no interest in a dog prior to coming into custody and are unsure of the value of a dog that isn’t a fighter, sniffer or police dog.

One of the most rewarding experiences of my career was recently listening to a group of men discussing their session with Isla. ( They allowed me to take notes and they have been captured for others to read)

  • This has been the best day of my life in 10 years
  • I have not stroked a dog for 8 years
  • I have not touched or cuddled anything like that – ever- in my whole life (he then started to cry)
  • How can something so simple give me so much pleasure, I somehow feel embarrassed and ashamed all at the same time
  • This makes me want to get straight and just go home to my wife and the dogs and do the simple things
  • Isla has made me miss my dogs terribly, but in a really good way.

So how does a dog like Isla come into an overwhelming environment with both noise and chaos. Dogs which offer this sort of therapy are not trained in the art, they apparently have a skill, it would seem the handler too has a skill in both recognising an Animal fit for purpose together with the ability to accompany their dog into an alien and some may think dangerous environment.

It is not dangerous but it is overwhelming and not for the faint-hearted. Very few dogs or humans would volunteer their time. But Isla and her handler do this service for absolutely no money.

 

So is the evidence overwhelming?

 

 

 

I believe it is, whilst not every person will or indeed find solace and calm with a dog or a cat. It is equally true not every dog is capable of offering calmness courage and understanding, the dog also senses when to leave the patient alone and when to offer comfort and also not fearing the patients darkness. It is a very special animal that understands and can appear to recognise and comfort people with mental health disorders or those who display anti social behaviors who are both the bullies and the bullied, who may have been victims of crime and also perpetuate crime. A pet Therapy Dog makes no judgments and that I believe is the point

Perhaps you have firsthand experience of the power of the mood busting skills a dog appears to have! Or perhaps you would like to find out if your dog has what it takes to become a Therapy Dog, 

 

Apologies for the picture quality but this is the  one and only picture of her and me together, although damaged am showing it regardless.

This is the wonderful Isla.

Isla

2 Replies to “Can Dogs Help with Anxiety?- Is it a Myth or are they really mood Busters?”

  1. I have no doubt that dogs pick up on your mood. If you are feeling sad, happy or in pain they some how seem to know and treat you accordingly. They share your happiness, comfort you through your sadness and support you when in pain. This is great therapy but more so for us dog lovers.

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