Finlay, my dog, is a certified therapy dog. Visiting others for emotional support helps us bring a little love into the lives of others and balance into my life. One of the things Finlay and I do together is visit US Military Veterans in Hospice at the Ann Arbor VA Hospital. We visited on Veteran’s Day and brought a little compassionate love to those vets.
Many of us have been lucky enough to experience the love and companionship of a furry, four-legged friend. The loyalty of a good dog goes far beyond gentle, friendly interactions. It has been scientifically proven that therapy dogs have many health benefits for those they come into contact with. These positive interactions not only relieve the mind, but also considerably improve health conditions.
The list below details just a few of the ways that therapy dogs benefit patients:
- Blood pressure – High blood pressure can be associated with many things, like a rapid heart rate, anxiety or a stressful life. Because these conditions are often the result of psychological problems, therapy dogs can help. It’s a known fact that petting a dog can create a positive atmosphere; it is often practiced with patients to help reduce their anxiety. In this case, the obedience and calmness of therapy dogs can significantly lower blood pressure and heart rate.
- Epinephrine and Norepinephrine levels – In order to keep depression and anxiety at bay, the human body needs a certain level of epinephrine and norepinephrine levels. These neurotransmitters affect blood pressure, heart rate and glucose levels. In interacting with a therapy dog, the patient can experience lower levels of both. In fact, a scientific study revealed that patients visited by therapy dogs experienced a greater decrease in epinephrine and norepinephrine levels than when they were visited by volunteers.
- Endorphin levels – Endorphin is a natural substance produced by the human body. It works by manipulating the perceptions of pain or stress. Therapy dogs bring feelings of happiness when the patient interacts with them. The result: a better immune response and reduced stress and anxiety levels.
- Oxytocin levels –Oxytocin is the hormone that plays a major role in maternal behaviors. Some researchers have suggested that interactions between therapy dogs and humans can actually increase this hormone’s levels. Among improving empathy and boosting happiness, dogs can stimulate better pair bonding.
Other physical and mental benefits of therapy dogs include:
- Lessens depression
- Decreases feelings of isolation
- Reduced boredom
- Children successfully overcome disorders (speech and emotional)
- Motivation to recover faster
- Reduced feelings of loneliness
- Maintained or increased motor skills
- Motivation to move more or stretch farther
- Joint movement increased and improved
I love hearing stories of therapy dogs that nurtured, comforted and encouraged someone who was suffering. Dogs really do prove, on a daily basis, that they are “man’s best friend”. Whether you stepped outside for 15 minutes or were gone for two days, the level of excitement and love from your four-legged friend is the same. How lucky am I that this guy shares office space with me? Wow! Who else is that excited to see you, no matter what mood you’re in?