People say that dogs are a (wo)man’s best friend, but according to research, dogs are much more than just loyal companions. Studies have shown that dogs can improve physical and emotional health. And many experts believe that canine companionship can be a powerful tool on the road to recovery.
There are three different kinds of support dogs: therapy dogs, emotional support dogs, and service dogs. Therapy dogs are naturally calm and friendly dogs who are brought by their trainers to hospitals, rehab centers, and other institutions. Ideal for patients who don’t want to take on an animal full-time, therapy dogs let people get the benefits of spending time with an animal in supervised environments without the responsibility.
Emotional support dogs, on the other hand, are primarily used to provide companionship. These dogs don’t need special training, but they provide near-constant comfort for individuals. Registering a pet as an emotional service animal allows individuals to have pets in housing that usually prohibits animals, and also lets them bring their emotional service animal in aircraft cabins. Most dog owners know how comforting a pet can be in situations like traveling out of town for a vacation. But before traveling with your emotional support dog, make sure that you’ve protected him against diseases and parasites, especially when traveling to a warm destination. And of course, you’ll need to get a letter of recommendation from a medical professional to register your dog as an emotional service animal.
Service dogs are dogs that have been trained to be highly responsive to their owners and assist individuals with disabilities. Service dogs undergo rigorous training, which is why they tend to be quite costly. Because people who have a history of substance abuse are more susceptible to conditions like chronic pain, psychiatric disorders, eating disorders, and other issues, service dogs can be a great help. These dogs are able to perform certain tasks, such as helping their owners balance themselves, retrieving objects, reminding owners to take medication, and getting assistance.
Though it’s difficult to quantify the benefits that a dog’s affection can have on patients in recovery from substance abuse, most researchers have observed that dogs help patients express themselves better. Bringing therapy dogs into rehabilitation centers helps healthcare professionals get a better understanding of how to help their patients. Some clients may withdraw if the therapy animal doesn’t act friendly enough right away, which could be a reflection of how the patient handles interpersonal relationships. Because people often turn to substances when they allow fear of rejection to take over (and so they turn to a maladaptive coping mechanism), canine therapy can teach clients to become more vulnerable.
Canine companionship can help lower levels of anxiety and depression. Caring for another being has also been shown to help rebuild someone’s self-esteem, give more reason to stay active, and add a sense of purpose — all of which are crucial in preventing relapse. Interacting with dogs can also raise levels of dopamine, which is the same neurotransmitter that uppers like cocaine and amphetamines boost. Dogs can also increase serotonin, oxytocin, and endorphins. Over time, canine therapy can reduce dependence on drugs, because it allows those in recovery to reach a positive emotional state in a healthy way.
Dogs have been used in recovery since the 1860s, when Florence Nightingale discovered that animal companionship helped her patients. But if you feel that you’re not in a place where you can take on a pet, you can still get the benefits of spending time with animals in other ways. Aside from seeking out specialized canine therapy, you could volunteer at a local animal shelter to play and walk dogs. By spending time with animals, you’ll have a better understanding of how to take care of one yourself.
written by: Sally Writes