The Importance of Therapy Dogs in Alleviating Anxiety


It’s normal to feel anxious, apprehensive, and fearful of uncertainties. Anxiety is always around us, be it the first day on a new job, talking to unknown people, or joining a talent contest for the first time.

But, you don’t have to live in constant anxiety. Your anxious and fearful behavior may cause you serious self-esteem problems, and may interfere with your day-to-day activities. Good news is, there are several ways to combat anxiety. These include using calming techniques and psychotherapy.

However, there is one promising solution that can help anxious people calm down and feel safer and braver. It’s the power of therapy dogs. Find out how these pooches keep anxiety at bay for many people.

Therapy Dogs Defined

Therapy dogs are defined by the American Kennel Club (AKC) as trained dogs who visit homes, hospitals, elderly centers, and children’s orphanages to bring comfort and joy to their residents. These emotional support dogs have a friendly personality and a well-controlled temperament. They often come with their masters on a voluntary basis.

These dogs make themselves available by playing, cuddling, and talking to the people they visit. When they do such things, they provide a kind of “therapy” that can help improve the physical and emotional well-being of their hosts.

For instance, a therapy dog visits a child with slow learning ability as he learns to read for the first time. The child can interact with the therapy dog and his owner as he tries to hone his reading skills. The child gets a therapeutic benefit from interacting with the dog both physically and emotionally, and he gets to improve his reading skills by simply talking to the dog, and reading aloud while cuddling with him.

Therapy Dogs Versus Service Dogs

People often confuse therapy dogs with service dogs. To clear this up, they are not the same. They are different groups of pooches with specific functions.

Therapy dogs are trained to help in settings such as hospitals, nursing homes, schools, and orphanages. They go with their owners to help improve the general well-being of the people they visit. Therapy dogs are considered as volunteers who come and go, and are therefore not entitled to special access in public places such as restaurants and airplanes.

On the other hand, service dogs are trained to provide assistance to people with disabilities and long-term illnesses. Such dogs act as companions to physically handicapped persons like blind and deaf people. They help their handicapped owners perform activities of daily living, such as assisting in walking and taking medications. Unlike therapy dogs, service dogs live with their owners and are entitled to special access privileges for public areas.

Why Use Therapy Dogs to Battle Anxiety?

Many studies have shown the positive effects of human-animal interaction on psychological health. This means that interacting with therapy dogs can pave a new way to help tone down anxiety in vulnerable groups such as children, the elderly, and those people with diagnosed anxiety disorders.

Here are the reasons why therapy dogs are a great solution for battling anxiety:

*Dogs physiologically decrease stress and improve trust in humans.

Studies have shown that friendly animals such as therapy dogs evoke changes in human hormone levels, which translates to increased trust and decreased stress levels.  It all boils down to the human-animal bond, the connection that both humans and dogs feel once they interact with affection and love.

Cortisol and oxytocin are two hormones responsible for feelings of stress and trust, respectively. Interaction with dogs trigger a decrease in cortisol production, thereby decreasing stress levels. There is also an observed spike in oxytocin levels that contributes to feelings of warmth, security, and trust.

Persons struggling with anxiety are often in a hopeless and fearful state. The shift in hormones brought about by the human-animal bond helps remove this hopelessness, and gives them a powerful kind of joy and refreshed hope.

*They inspire happiness and stop insecurities.

Anxious people often worry about a lot of things and get lots of life insecurities as a result. These insecurities may eventually lead to sadness and hopelessness.

A visit from a therapy dog could quickly turn around the saddening effects of anxiety. Seeing and cuddling a friendly dog can instantly brighten up the mood of anxious people. The dogs can spark a delight that often erases anxiety-provoking thoughts and the insecurities that come with it.

*They increase people’s self-awareness of their anxious behaviors.

There are times when anxious people won’t even admit to themselves that they are indeed apprehensive and fearful. Therapy dogs can make them admit to themselves the reality of their anxiety, since these dogs are trained to become sensitive to human emotions and their corresponding responses. Humans interacting with these dogs learn to express their feelings. They slowly get rid of their anxiety and its sources.

*They improve self-esteem and social interaction.

Anxious people are often afraid of talking to others for fear of judgment. They close off their doors to social interaction because of this. But therapy dogs turn this around by inspiring a non-judgmental type of social interaction. Cuddling, kissing, playing, and talking to a therapy dog may help anxious people slowly open themselves back up to interaction, and eventually carry this renewed confidence in interacting with other people.

*Dogs provide a soothing, non-threatening presence in psychological treatments.

Therapy dogs are often included in animal-assisted therapy because they improve connection between the health care professional administering treatment and the client. The dogs make the healthcare workers seem less threatening. They also become a soothing presence that instantly calms and engages the clients.

The Wrap-Up

Therapy dogs provide a lot of benefits to people suffering from anxiety and anxiety disorders. They become a loving, non-judgmental presence that melts anxious behaviors away, inspires happiness, and helps bring new hope to the darkness left behind by anxiety’s disturbing symptoms.

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