Dog Therapy: Can it help?

Dougie dog

Hi, I'm Dougie

I'm in charge of team morale.

My dog, Dougie, came into my life in a very bizarre and unplanned  way. Often the best things do, but his arrival caused massive upheaval. This palm-sized puppy forced me to move from my beloved London flat to back with my parents who had retired to the Sussex Coast. The transition from the fast-paced, buzz of London to rural Sussex was tougher than I expected. I was isolated, lonely and completely lost. 

Yet here was this little bundle of chaotic energy who would jump out of bed every morning so excited for the day to begin. Little though he may be, Dougie has taught me a lot about unconditional love, companionship, and being in the moment. 

Since Dougie has had such a positive impact on me, I have become fascinated about how animals can be used as therapy from children with autism, soldiers suffering with PTSD, to elderly hospital patients.

The small act of stroking an animal can release essential happy hormones serotonin, prolactin and oxytocin. A study focusing on hospitalised heart failure patients discovered that a 12-minute visit with man’s best friend helped heart and lung function by lowering pressures, diminishing release of harmful hormones and decreasing anxiety. The benefits of a visit with a dog exceeded those from a visit with a human volunteer or from being left alone. 

It appears dogs have a transformative power on children with autism. Research has shown children who have been able to develop deep bonds with their dog have been able to  significantly use greater language and social interactions, compared to therapy without them.

In the UK more and more schools are employing our furry pals to help their students not only, emotionally, but academically too. The Kennels Club, Bark and Read initiative says,  

Reading to dogs helps children develop their reading skills, encourages positive behaviour and helps build confidence and self-esteem. Reading to dogs inspires children to have fun and enjoy the experience of reading. All over the country, children are learning to love reading with the support of these amazing doggy companions.
— The Kennel Club

I wanted to find out exactly how a therapy dog is used in a school on the ground and if they have any impact at all on students (and staff!) well-being so I spent the day with two teachers from St Philip Howard Catholic School in Barnham, West Sussex who just welcomed their gorgeous chocolate Labrador to the team, following a devastating loss of one of their pupils. 

You can download and listen to the Podcast below. 

What do you think? Do you believe animals are therapeutic? How has your dog or pet helped you? Comment below or tell me on @thehappylands.