Past research has found that therapy dogs can improve a person’s cardiovascular health, allowing them to cut back on medications. In addition, simply petting a puppy has been shown to trigger the release of hormones -- specifically serotonin, prolactin and oxytocin -- and elevate one's mood. Most recently, researchers at Washington State University found that hour-long sessions with dogs can calm stressed-out students who are at risk of academic failure. The study, which involved more than 300 undergraduates, found that the sessions helped students to concentrate better, allowing them to absorb information more completely. “Students most at risk, such as those with mental health issues, showed the most benefit,” said researcher Patricia Pendry.
Dog is their co-pilot:
- About 1,000 U.S. colleges and universities now use therapy pets, and the trend is also prevalent in the United Kingdom. The University of Middlesex even has “canine teaching assistants” on staff to help keep students from dropping out.
- British nurse Florence Nightingale was an early practitioner of animal-assisted therapy in the late 19th century; she noticed that the presence of animals helped reduce anxiety levels among psychiatric patients.
- Sigmund Freud, the founder of psychoanalysis, used dogs to help his troubled patients feel comfortable, encouraging reticent patients to talk to them. He found that this approach helped the patients open up more easily.