Certainly smaller friends have a positive influence on humans. The impact of animals on human mental health through the eyes of experts
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), the impact of animals on human health is undoubtedly positive. This applies to both physical and mental health. Researchers have proven that having a dog or cat help in:
- treating coronary heart disease,
- relieving pain,
- lowering heart rate
- blood pressure,
- equalizing cholesterol levels.
And as we know, the physical health goes hand in hand with mental health, so it is no wonder that owners of pets are less likely to use psychologists and psychiatrists.
Speaking of the influence of animals on humans, it is impossible to ignore the issues of zootherapy, which are very popular today due to their effectiveness. I
In the USA, there are 3 therapies:
- Felinotherapy, cat therapy.
- Hippotherapy, therapy with horses.
Nota bene, there are dolphins, mules or donkeys in the world.
How is it rehabilitation with animals that brings such surprising results in terms of mental condition?
All because of the hormones. By touching, that is stroking and hugging a pet, the secretion of hormones is stimulated.
- On one hand, these are endorphins, called the hormones of happiness, whose action can be compared to that of morphine. They relieve pain and make you happy.
- On the other hand, tactile stimulation increases the level of oxytocin, i.e. the hormone of love, responsible for bonds, and thus the sense of happiness, acceptance, and belonging. Moreover, as it turns out, the sense of touch correlates with the level of cortisol, the hormone responsible for stress.
What effect do pets have on humans?
So many theories. And as for practice, see how animal ownership affects your psyche:
- You feel lonely, take in a pet. A lot of research confirms that a pet can be a substitute for another person. Home pets can undoubtedly provide you not only with the company, but also with unconditional love.
- You have a dog, you are more sociable – as it turns out, having a dog is strongly correlated with making social contacts. So, if you own a four-legged dog, you interact with more people. And contact with another person is extremely important for your mental well-being.
- You’re fighting depression, the four-legged man will help. Dogs and cats have particular merit here, and contact with them reduces tension and improves well-being. People who suffer from depression feel broken up and often can’t find the right activity for themselves. This is where the four-legged dog and cats come in to help, focusing the owner’s attention and motivating them to act.
- You improve your physical and therefore mental condition – this is especially true for those who are encouraged to move. As it turns out, dog owners walk almost twice as much as people without pets. There’s no need to convince anyone that outdoor movement helps to relax and unwind.
- You reduce the level of stress – as already mentioned, contact with your pet, stroking and hugging him, reduces the level of cortisol – the stress hormone. In addition, the mere awareness of the presence of someone who is waiting for you and needs your attention brings a number of positive emotions.
As you can see, the impact of animals on human mental health is enormous. Of course, having a dog or cat is most beneficial, but other, even small pets, are certainly able to improve your well-being. To conclude, let’s mention the long-term research conducted by scientists in Austria and Germany. Their results show that people who have been pet owners for at least 5 years on average visit doctors 10 times less than those who do not have a pet.
i.e. support of therapy for people (especially children) through the participation of a dog, is becoming more and more popular every year. Classes with dogs are very pleasant and relaxing for patients and bring many benefits. However, when talking about dog therapy, we must not forget about the dogs themselves. What is dogotherapy, who does it help and how do four-legged therapists find themselves in it?
The basic division of dogotherapy
We can divide the dogotherapy into two types:
- Animal Assisted Activities (AAA)
- Animal Assisted Therapy (AAT)
AAA, or animal-assisted activities, are all kinds of activities and workshops that you don’t have to be qualified to conduct. These can be educational activities about animals and their welfare, but also, for example, a demonstration of the work of dogs in the uniformed services or rescue services.
AAT is different from animal-assisted therapy. To conduct such therapy you need both a qualified therapist and a properly trained dog. The therapist must set the goal of the therapy, monitor its course and progress.
Who can benefit from animal-assisted therapy?
Dogotherapy can be used to support a wide range of disorders – from motor disorders and any degree of physical and intellectual disability, through logopedic and mental illnesses, to support for people in retirement homes.
A dog can help with anxiety therapy – establishing a relationship with a dog is a great introduction to the socialization of a withdrawn child. The dog does not judge, so it is sometimes easier for the child to get used to it.
Unfortunately, such a tame is not the same in every case. For example, one of the symptoms of the autism spectrum disorder are difficulties with generalization – such a person, getting used to a particular dog, has great difficulty to process that dogs on the street are the same animals as the therapist’s dog. The problem can also work the other way round – a child will think that if a dog from the class is balanced and gentle, it means that every dog is like that. This can lead to dangerous situations. That’s why it’s so important to choose the right patients for dog therapy and educate the child to understand the specifics of the animal.
Dogotherapy is mistakenly regarded as a universal method of treatment for all. I would like to deal with this myth. The bond between man and dog is incredible and very valuable, but every person (including people with disabilities!) has the right to self-determination. If a patient feels uncomfortable in the company of a dog, is afraid of it, shows symptoms of allergy, or simply doesn’t want to work this way – you should respect his decision.
The author of the book “Dogotherapy. Truths and myths” say straightforwardly that if we are not able to obtain the patient’s explicit consent to dogotherapy – for example as a result of his disability – he should remain with classical therapy without the dog.
Do Therapy Dogs actually work?
First of all, it is important to remember that a dog is only an “addition” to the proper therapy. The presence of a dog alone does not cure. However, it can have a motivating and relaxing effect on the patient and gives a feeling of support – these are very important elements of any therapy. Before we decide to introduce the dog to the therapy, we have to set a goal and consider whether the presence of the dog will help in achieving it.
Dog and dog classes look different depending on the area they will work on. We meet both one-on-one sessions and group classes with one or sometimes even several dogs. Such a session should not belong. It usually lasts 20-30 minutes as the stress level of the dog is elevated during the class and the dog gets tired quite quickly.
Dogotherapy is great for children with communication difficulties. Playing with the dog supports socialization, teaches body language reading and often triggers spontaneous verbal messages towards the dog. It can also be a basis for learning the dog’s anatomy, naming body parts, preferably in combination with education on how to handle the dog properly. The presence of the dog can also act as a motivator for simple exercises to develop motor and cognitive skills, such as obstacle courses or learning how to bring delicacies to bowls of the right color.
Are dogs therapeutic?
The basic duty of the doctor is to take care of the dog and the safety of its relationship with the patient. He or she should undergo training in dog behavior and know the stress signals sent out by the dog to be able to react immediately when he or she feels uncomfortable.
The length of the session should also be adjusted to suit your dog’s abilities. As already mentioned, during the session the dog has an increased level of stress, so sessions usually last 20 to 30 minutes. There are also no therapies that are intended to affect your dog’s senses – they are much more sensitive than humans. We are talking about therapies such as aromatherapy, music therapy as well as chronotherapy – too much chaos in the dog’s environment can affect his mood.
Which breed of dog is the best for dog dogotherapy?
The breed of the dog that has been trained for the therapy doesn’t really matter. It is important that he is balanced and patient – which does not mean that he will never growl or bite someone when his boundaries are regularly crossed! It’s also worth remembering that a parent is more likely to send a child to classes with a dog of a breed that is associated with a mild, such as a labrador, than one that is considered to be dangerous. But it does not have to be a breed dog. The dog’s coat will work just as well as a dog therapist. It is important that the dog should not be afraid or too busy. It is best to adapt to the character of the dog to the patient as far as possible.
Among the dog therapists “from the old school” there is a belief that a dog can replace a rehabilitation bag, so it is often used as an exercise accessory. However, the dog therapist should not be lying on top of the dog, nor should he be hugged too much, etc.
There should be a water bowl and a bed in the room where the session takes place so that the dog can move away whenever he feels the need. The therapist should educate his patients to respect basic principles such as that the dog may not feel like being a stroke.
Dogotherapy and the dog at home
You might think that if the dog treatment is so effective, you just need to buy a dog home. Unfortunately, it doesn’t quite work that way. Buying a dog should be a well-thought-out decision and should be made with the consent of all household members.
Assuming that the members of the household are not professional trainers or behaviouralists, they must be aware that the dog must be properly trained and brought up. During the dog therapy classes, the human therapist acts as a guardian and educator, while at home there may be no such person.
Although various specialists can successfully complement regular dog therapy, it is not dedicated to everyone. The role of the dog be a key element of the therapy, but only an addition to make it more varied or motivating.
During the session, the most important thing is the comfort of both the dog and the patient. The role of the therapist is to correctly read the signals sent by the animal, as well as to react when a threat appears or one of the parties feels bad in this relationship. Equally important is to educate the patient about the dog’s needs and methods of communication.