The Role of Dogs in Therapy: Benefits and Considerations

The Role of Dogs in Therapy: Benefits and Considerations

Table of Contents


The Therapeutic Impact of Dogs in Human Lives

Dogs have long been known as ‘man’s best friend,’ but their role extends far beyond companionship. In the realm of therapy, dogs have become invaluable allies, aiding in the treatment and support of individuals with a variety of physical, emotional, and psychological conditions. The use of dogs in therapy, often referred to as Animal-Assisted Therapy (AAT), leverages the innate qualities of these animals to promote healing and improve the quality of life for many people.

Understanding Animal-Assisted Therapy (AAT)

Animal-Assisted Therapy involves structured interactions between a person and a trained animal, with specific therapeutic goals in mind. Dogs, with their empathetic nature and ability to be trained for various tasks, are among the most common animals used in AAT. The presence of a dog in a therapeutic setting can provide comfort, reduce stress, and open lines of communication for individuals who may be otherwise withdrawn or unresponsive.

Benefits of Dogs in Therapy

Emotional and Psychological Benefits: Interacting with therapy dogs can lead to increased levels of oxytocin and dopamine, hormones associated with happiness and bonding, while decreasing cortisol levels, which are linked to stress. This biochemical response can help alleviate symptoms of depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Social Benefits: Dogs in therapeutic environments can act as social lubricants, encouraging interaction and communication among patients and between patients and therapists. This can be particularly beneficial for individuals with autism or social phobias.

Physical Health Benefits: Therapy dogs can motivate individuals to engage in physical activity, which is beneficial for those with mobility issues or those recovering from physical injuries. The act of petting a dog can also lower blood pressure and improve cardiovascular health.

Developmental Benefits: For children with developmental disorders, therapy dogs can assist in the development of motor skills through activities such as grooming or walking the dog.

Considerations for Therapy Dog Programs

Training and Certification: It is essential that dogs used in therapy are properly trained and certified to ensure they are well-behaved and can handle the various situations they may encounter in therapeutic settings.

Matching Dogs to Clients: Not all dogs are suitable for every client. Careful consideration must be given to the temperament of the dog and the specific needs of the client to ensure a beneficial interaction.

Health and Safety: Maintaining the health and hygiene of therapy dogs is crucial to prevent the transmission of zoonotic diseases. Regular health checks and vaccinations are necessary for the safety of both the dogs and the clients.

Understanding Limitations: While dogs can be incredible therapeutic aids, they are not a substitute for professional medical treatment. AAT should be used as a complementary therapy alongside traditional treatment methods.

Case Studies and Research on Therapy Dogs

Research has shown positive outcomes in various settings where therapy dogs have been utilized. For instance, studies have indicated that children undergoing dental procedures were less anxious when a therapy dog was present. In eldercare settings, therapy dogs have been shown to reduce agitation and increase social interaction among residents with dementia.

Implementing a Therapy Dog Program

Organizations looking to implement a therapy dog program must consider the logistics, such as the selection and training of dogs, the integration of the program into existing therapeutic practices, and the ongoing evaluation of the program’s effectiveness. Collaboration with reputable organizations that specialize in therapy dog training can streamline this process.


The role of dogs in therapy is a testament to the multifaceted nature of the human-animal bond. As research continues to uncover the myriad benefits of AAT, therapy dog programs are likely to become an increasingly common and integral part of holistic therapeutic approaches. The judicious application of these programs, with attention to the considerations outlined, can harness the healing power of dogs to enrich the lives of many.