It turns out that the adage about dogs being man’s best friend goes above and beyond. Therapy dogs are certified, registered animals that serve a number of hours to meet stringent requirements. They oftentimes visit hospitals and nursing homes to help decrease anxiety and lift patients’ mood. Universities and libraries have also adopted therapy dog approaches to decrease stress and promote ease within students and children.
Research has shown that animal interaction lowers blood pressure and the amount of cortisol, or stress hormone, running through your body. In a study by the American Heart Association, stress hormones dropped 14% in patients exposed to a therapy dog compared with those who did not have an animal around them.
Having a therapy dog in your company goes beyond alleviating feelings of loneliness and giving you something healthy and loving to focus on besides your pervasive thoughts and emotions; its presence is thought to slow breathing in anxious individuals and can help improve the patient-therapist dynamic.
Studies also show that those with autism spectrum disorder had improved social interactions and reduced anxiety levels when a therapy dog was present. The mere act of petting a furry animal releases mood-elevating hormones such as oxytocin and serotonin.
What kind of training do therapy dogs have?
There are a number of organizations throughout the US with therapy dog certification programs. As an example, with the American Kennel Club, dogs of any breed are awarded the AKC Therapy Dog distinction when those animals have shown that they’ve improved the lives of those in need. Dogs receive titles based on how many therapy visits they have completed — anywhere from 10-400 visits.
On top of that, dogs certified as therapy dogs usually go through some form of obedience training so they can be well-mannered and calm around patients. These dogs are kept up-to-date on shots and routine veterinary visits to ensure top health.