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The Science Behind Canine Therapy

Posted on August 17, 2018 by michael

Dogs are often called man’s best friend – and it’s easy to see why! According to a 2012 survey conducted by the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), approximately 36.5% of households in the United States have at least one dog. This accounts for an estimated 43,346,000 households in total.

The Science Behind Man’s Best Friend

Dogs, like many pets, can provide an excellent means of unconditional love and support, which is why they are one of the most popular choices to Animal Assisted Therapy. AAT has been practiced for hundreds of years, but the treatment as we know it today comes from the official integration of AAT into clinical psychology. This is thanks to child psychologist, Dr. Boris Levinson, and his paper “The dog as a ‘co-therapist’,” published in 1962.

Since then, the popularity of AAT has only grown. In fact, the success of AAT in the states has led other countries such as Japan, Germany, Luxembourg, and Switzerland, to adopt the treatment as well. Founded in 1990, the International Association for Human-Animal Interaction Organization was founded to gather national associations and other related organizations that are interested in advancing the understanding and the appreciation of human-animal interactions.

Canine therapy, as it’s colloquially known, is a type of AAT where a dog is used as the therapeutic companion. The benefits of using man’s best friend for therapeutic purposes are many and varied. Dr. Diane Dreher is a best-selling author, personal coach, and director of the Spirituality and Health Institute. On canine therapy, she writes that “The healing power of unconditional love. With all the stress and trauma in the world today, perhaps that’s one prescription we could all use.”

In fact, studies have shown that canine companions can help individuals reduce heart rate, blood pressure, and even lower their anxiety! Also known as pet-facilitated therapy, or PFT, canine companions are frequently employed at children’s hospitals to help relieve patients’ anxiety and even help them improve their reading skills. This is because children can read aloud to their four-legged friends, thus improving their diction, reading comprehension, and confidence with language and communication.

A Proven Method of Treatment

There are three types of canine companions that are commonly seen:

Therapy Dogs

These dogs (or other pets) can help relieve patients of feelings of loneliness and depression, particularly in older adults, by offering companionship and unconditional love.

Emotional Support Dogs

 These dogs primarily help patients dealing with anxiety, depression, and panic attacks.

Service Dogs

 These dogs assist individuals with certain physical disabilities such as problems with mobility and visual impairment. They are also used to help veterans cope with the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD.

Though it comes in many forms, canine therapy is a treatment that haeen proven to be successful time and time again. s been proven successful time and time again. For example, a study conducted by Maggie O’Hare of Purdue University reviewed the results of 14 clinical trials in which the effects of AAT were examined on children with autism. Collectively, these studies measured 30 different outcomes and variables. While impressive, the results were, perhaps, hardly surprising. All of the studies proved that AAT was effective. In fact, the children with autism who were treated with AAT showed “statistically significant” improvements in 27 of the 30 outcomes measurements.

Another study, conducted by Erika Friedmann and Heesook Son, reviewed the results of 28 AAT studies published between 1997 and 2009. These studies involved a variety of conditions such as schizophrenia, Alzheimer’s, Down’s Syndrome, and developmental disabilities, and their responses to AAT. Incredibly, all 28 studies revealed that AAT produced beneficial results in patients treated. A similar, more recent study, led by neuroscientist and executive director of the Kimmela Center for Animal Advocacy, found that 26 out of 28 studies published between 2005 and 2011 showed that AAT caused positive outcomes in patients undergoing the therapy.

Need Support? Canine Therapy can Help

If you or someone you know is struggling with anxiety, depression, loneliness, or PTSD, canine therapy may be an excellent option to help relieve symptoms. Furthermore, canine therapy has been proven to help children with autism and other learning disabilities improve their speech, reading, and communication skills. Dogs are man’s best friend, and a great source of love and support, too.

Categories: Wellness
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