How Therapy Dogs and Animal Assisted Therapy can help you improve your mental health
Therapy Dogs and Animal Assisted Therapy
Dogs are great to have around to help you feel better. That’s why therapy dogs are being used to help treat and manage mental health problems and provide support to individuals. Animals are increasingly being found to have a positive affect on mental wellbeing.
The Scientific Reason
There is actually a scientific reason behind why dogs can be beneficial to our mental health. By hugging or petting a dog, oxytocin in released into the body. Oxytocin is a chemical that lowers blood pressure, heart rate and levels of stress. So, getting a dose of oxytocin released into your body will help boost your mood and help you feel both calmer and happier. Which is exactly why you feel so much better after spending some time around dogs.
How can animals (specifically dogs) help?
Dogs also understand emotions and can form relationships with their owner - relationships which provide comfort and help you feel more confident. They can also help provide close companionship in times of loneliness which is also important for wellbeing.
Dogs also bring a sense of structure and makes you to stick to it even when you may be feeling unmotivated to get up or take care of yourself. Needing to take care of another animal reminds you to do the same for yourself and prevents you from falling to bad habits.
But even if you don’t have a dog (or therapy dog) of your own - that doesn’t mean you can’t get a good dose of petting dogs in every once in a while.
Where can I find a therapy dog if I don’t have one?
Yesterday, St. John Ambulance brought in therapy dogs to Red River College as a part of THRIVE week - a week focused on mental wellness. Therapy dogs are often brought into different institutions from schools, seniors homes, community centres and events. So if you can’t get a dog or don’t want your own - you can still get the mood boosting oxytocin by petting them. There is likely somewhere near you that has therapy dogs come in sometimes.
Some reports note that therapy dogs present in post secondary institutions are extremely beneficial to reducing the stress levels of students and increasing their perception of support at the school.
Animals and relationships with them have long been a part of cultures but recently research has grown concerning the positive affect they can have on people.
So, what should I do?
Go out and spend some time with dogs - it might have a surprising affect on how you’re feeling!
Tottle W. Dogs, Mental Health, and the Ways They Can Help Our Minds. Positive Health. 2018;(250):6. https://login.athena.rrc.mb.ca:2047/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=rzh&AN=132655013&site=eds-live. Accessed November 6, 2018.
HOUSE LA, NEAL C, BACKELS K. A Doggone Way to Reduce Stress: An Animal Assisted Intervention with College Students. College Student Journal. 2018;52(2):199. https://login.athena.rrc.mb.ca:2047/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=f5h&AN=130164999&site=eds-live. Accessed November 6, 2018.
Fine AH. Handbook on Animal-Assisted Therapy : Theoretical Foundations and Guidelines for Practice. Vol 2nd ed. Amsterdam: Academic Press; 2006. https://login.athena.rrc.mb.ca:2047/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=nlebk&AN=173484&site=eds-live. Accessed November 6, 2018.