Why Do Therapy Dogs Work
- October 16, 2021
There are over 50,000 therapy dogs in the United States, and they're becoming more popular in countries from Norway to Brazil. 1:03The scientists found no difference between the study dogs' cortisol levels at home and at the hospital, evidence that the therapy dogs were not particularly stressed. The next question is whether therapy dogs actually enjoy their work, she says—and the new pediatric cancer study provides a few hints. Finding a Natural FitThat requires observing therapy dogs closely, even if they can seem inconsistent at times. So therapy dog trainers and certifiers, as well as owners, need to look for enthusiasm, not mere tolerance.
If you're a dog lover, just being with your pet feels good.
So it's no surprise that therapy dogs are healing companions for people with health conditions such as cancer, post-traumatic stress syndrome, and dementia.
There are over 50,000 therapy dogs in the United States, and they're becoming more popular in countries from Norway to Brazil. Trained and certified by a variety of organizations, these dogs and their handlers go into hospitals and other facilities and interact with patients.
Research confirms that the benefits of pet therapy are real—but what do dogs think about helping humans? Science has considered this question too, and the results are reassuring. (Read why pets are so good for us.)
A recent study in Applied Animal Behaviour Science reports that therapy dogs in pediatric cancer wards are not stressed by their "work," and in fact seem to enjoy it in most cases.
"What made this study unique was that it was multisite—it took place in five different hospitals across the country—and the fact that we visited over a hundred patients and 26 dogs participated, making it the largest of its kind in this field," says study leader Amy McCullough, national director of research and therapy at American Humane, a Washington, D.C.-based animal welfare organization.
The researchers measured levels of cortisol, a hormone elevated in response to stress, in the canines' saliva. The swabs were taken both at home and during therapy sessions at the hospital.
However, cortisol level rise with both good and bad stress. "Let's say we have a dog that loves to play ball—when the ball comes out and the dog starts chasing the ball, that would elevate the dog's cortisol levels as well," McCullough says.
So the team also videotaped and analyzed 26 canine behaviors in three categories: friendly actions such as approaching a person or play-bowing; moderate stress indicators such as lip-licking and shaking; and high-stress behaviors like whimpering. (Read more about why dogs are so friendly.)
The scientists found no difference between the study dogs' cortisol levels at home and at the hospital, evidence that the therapy dogs were not particularly stressed.
The finding is consistent with previous research, according to Lisa Maria Glenk, author of a 2017 review of the literature on therapy dog welfare.
The "well-designed" study is particularly valuable for its level of detail: "Previous studies provided only limited or no information on session activities, which makes it hard to identify the practices that raise stress levels in dogs," says Glenk, of Vienna's University of Veterinary Medicine.
The next question is whether therapy dogs actually enjoy their work, she says—and the new pediatric cancer study provides a few hints. (Your dog knows how you feel—here's how.)
For example, dogs seemed happier during some activities than others; a child talking to the dog or playing with its toy, for example, seemed to elicit more friendly responses than a child brushing the animal or drawing it.
Looking at the results, "it's fair to say that some activities are more fun for the dog," McCullough notes.
"This is good information for handlers—they can lean toward the activities that they think their dog would enjoy."
That requires observing therapy dogs closely, even if they can seem inconsistent at times. For instance, the study found that the dogs who showed the most stress behaviors also showed the most friendly behaviors, suggesting that some canines may just be more obvious about their feelings. (See some of our favorite dog pictures.)
Like with any job, it's important to choose the right candidates, McCullough adds. Many people want to share their pets' affection with their local communities, "but that doesn't mean their dog is cut out for this kind of work."
So therapy dog trainers and certifiers, as well as owners, need to look for enthusiasm, not mere tolerance.
"Does the dog solicit attention, or does the dog need to be bribed with treats to interact?" she says.
"It needs to be a mutually beneficial interaction when they are visiting with the client, so it's important that the dog really loves their job."
Therapy dogs can help reduce student stress, anxiety and improve
Research has shown therapy dogs can reduce stress and provide a sense of connection in difficult situations. It’s important to note therapy dogs are not service dogs. One example is to facilitate emotional or physical mental health and wellbeing through pet therapy or the presence of therapy dogs. Benefits of therapy dogsAnimal assisted therapy can:More recently, therapy dogs are being used as a form of engagement with students at school and university. Benefits of therapy dogs at schoolPioneer Library System/Flickr , CC BY-NC-NDA recent report highlighted children working with therapy dogs experienced increased motivation for learning, resulting in improved outcomes.
Do Therapy Dogs Really Work?
How Does Having a Therapy Dog Help? GreyhoundAlthough this breed does not seem like it would be a good therapy dog, it is known for its affectionate demeanor and quiet loyalty. Learn More About Dog Therapy And Other Treatment Options Speak With A Board-Certified Therapist OnlineA therapy dog is trained to provide affection and comfort to people and has to pass a Canine Good Citizen test. I feel very lucky to have worked with her.”Commonly Asked QuestionsWhat is the best dog for a therapy dog? What is the difference between an emotional support dog and a therapy dog?
Service, Working,Therapy, Emotional Support Dogs: Which Is Which?
Service dogs, working dogs, therapy dogs, and emotional support animals all fulfill important roles in their aid to humans, but the terms are not interchangeable. The ADA mandates that service dogs have full public access rights, which means they are allowed to go places where are animals are forbidden. Therapy dogs play a different helping role than service dogs and emotional support animals. Although they are defined as comfort dogs and often used in therapeutic settings, therapy dogs are not considered service dogs under the ADA and don’t have the same legal right to access in public spaces. Emotional support dogs are not considered service dogs under the ADA.
Therapy Dogs Work Miracles. But Do They Like Their Jobs
So it's no surprise that therapy dogs are healing companions for people with health conditions such as cancer, post-traumatic stress syndrome, and dementia. There are over 50,000 therapy dogs in the United States, and they're becoming more popular in countries from Norway to Brazil. Research confirms that the benefits of pet therapy are real—but what do dogs think about helping humans? A recent study in Applied Animal Behaviour Science reports that therapy dogs in pediatric cancer wards are not stressed by their "work," and in fact seem to enjoy it in most cases. "Let's say we have a dog that loves to play ball—when the ball comes out and the dog starts chasing the ball, that would elevate the dog's cortisol levels as well," McCullough says.
How To Train a Therapy Dog: Learning If Your Dog Is Fit For
Can Any Dog Be a Therapy Dog? So what makes a good therapy dog and how do pups and people become a therapy dog team? However, it’s not fair to give a dog a job that it doesn’t want.”Would Your Dog Make a Good Therapy Dog? She also emphasizes that therapy dog work is as good for the person as it is for the dog. Tips For How To Train A Therapy DogLearning to train a therapy dog is no easy task, and often requires a lot of work on behalf of both the dog and the handler.
Service Dogs 101: Everything You Need To Know About Service Dogs
Although some service dogs may wear vests, special harnesses, collars or tags, the ADA does not require service dogs to wear vests or display identification. Courthouse dogs are another category of dogs that sometimes wear vests or display other ID, but are not service dogs. Where to Find a Service DogProfessional service dog training organizations and individuals who train service dogs are located throughout the U.S. The AKC also works with the American Service Dog Access Coalition, a charitable not-for-profit organization comprised of major service dog groups, service dog access providers, advocates for the disabled, service dog trainers, and policymakers seeking to improve access for legitimate service dog teams while incentivizing high-quality behavioral standards for all service dogs, and educating the public about the crime of service dog fraud. ASDAC is building an “opt-in” service dog credentialing system, Service Dog Pass (SDP), that will streamline the air travel process for service dog teams while also reducing the challenges faced by gatekeepers when working to accommodate them.
How Therapy Dogs Can Improve Mental and Physical Health
Therapy dogs are pets that improve your health by giving emotional support. Therapy dogs are just one type of therapy animal. Therapy Dogs and Service DogsYou may have also heard of service dogs, but they're different from therapy dogs. Therapy dogs are sometimes called "comfort dogs." How Therapy Dogs Can Boost Your HealthSome mental health challenges and psychiatric disorders are known to respond well to therapy dogs. Patients diagnosed with a range of issues, such as depression, bipolar disorder, autism, ADHD, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and Alzheimer's disease, benefit from their interaction with therapy dogs and other companion animals.Sometimes, emotional challenges are the result of physical health problems, and therapy dogs can help with those too.