Dogs are great sources of companionship and comfort. If you’ve had a bad day, going home to your cute canine can make you smile again. In fact, studies show that petting a friendly and familiar dog reduces stress by lowering blood pressure, decreasing heart rate, and reducing muscle tension.

Canine-assisted therapy has become a fast growing healthcare service for patients in the United States. In fact, it is used to help soothe patients in hospitals, raise spirits in nursing homes, and to support veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder. The alternative therapy can also benefit children with special needs or improve the mood of family caregivers.

Dog therapy can promote both physical and emotional wellbeing for many different people in need. Let’s take a look at how dog therapy can help improve emotional health.

How Dog Therapy Helps

The purpose of dog-assisted therapy is to promote the emotional, mental, and physical well-being of patients as part of a comprehensive treatment plan. Research supports the idea that dog therapy has tangible benefits and is more than just a cute approach to fighting mental traumas.

The National Institute of Health concluded that interactions with animals like dogs can help improve social attention, social behavior, interpersonal interactions, and mood. Some evidence in the study also showed reduced rates of aggression and enhanced empathy along with improve learning skills.

The study proposed that the chemical oxytocin played a key role in the reported psychological and psycho-physicological effects of human-animal therapy. Oxytocin is a chemical hormone released in the body that helps humans feel happy and trusting. It is one way humans bond with their animals and other people over time.

Rebecca Johnson, a head researcher at the Research Center for Human/Animal Interaction at the University of Missouri College of Veterinary Medicine, said that human and animal bonding can be good for humans’ long-term health.

Johnson stated that “Oxytocin has some powerful effects for us in the body’s ability to be in a state of readiness to heal, and also to grow new cells, so it predisposes us to an environment in our own bodies where we can be healthier.”

Similar studies also show an increase in dopamine and endorphins after 20 minutes with therapy dogs.

Dog therapy is universal because it can help people of all ages with many different mental ailments. For years, therapists believe they have seen hundreds of patients with ranging from depression to various anxieties improve with the help of touch therapy and bonding with dogs who offer them a kind, nonjudgmental space to work through their problems.

Perhaps one of the best gifts dog therapy offers is the emotional relationships that can develop with these canine pets. After all, there’s a reason dogs are called man’s best friend. You can lean on them when you most need their support.

If you’re interested in dog therapy contact your local veterinarian who can refer you to an animal-assisted therapist in your area. You can also get in touch with the American Humane Association or the American Counseling Association. Happy petting!