Guest Post By: Paige Johnson
Most of us are familiar with service dogs that help people with physical impairments such as blindness or paralysis. We see them assist with crossing the street, opening doors, and performing other tasks that make their owners’ lives more manageable. Now, studies show that dogs are effective at treating depression and anxiety and improving people’s overall health. If you have a mental disorder, you need to consider getting a therapy dog. We’ll show you why below.
Therapy Dogs Help People with Mental Disorders Navigate Social Situations
People who have depression and anxiety often avoid social situations because they worry about what may happen when they are around too many people or strangers. They often have negative thoughts and fears. As Pet Wellness Academy co-founder Dr. Katie Kangas explains: “Anxiety and depression involve emotional turmoil and negative internal ‘self-talk.’ These thoughts typically spiral into unrealistic negativity and this continues in a vicious cycle.”
Dogs, whether they are pets or trained therapy animals, provide comfort and companionship for people with mental disorders by providing them with a reason for leaving the house and being in social situations. For example, your dog requires exercise such as a daily walk. Having a dog by your side can help you stay calm and provide comfort because you have a friend with you in situations that make you uncomfortable.
Trained dogs also can recognize the signs of a panic attack and calm their owners when one begins. Some trained dogs nudge their owner’s hand or leg or lick them to provide a stimulus to distract or calm them. They also know how to block strangers from approaching their owners and help them remain calm when they are among too many unfamiliar people.
Therapy dogs also help people navigate social situations by providing a starting point for conversations. When you walk your dog, for example, people may ask about your dog or try to pet him, prompting you to explain that your dog is working and how he helps you navigate day-to-day life. The dog acts as an icebreaker for conversations that otherwise may be difficult or uncomfortable for a person with a mental disorder. Plus, dogs are nonjudgmental and can provide a great listening ear for you when you’re struggling with difficult situations. Continue reading