Vizsla Puppy

Happiness is a Warm Puppy

Active senior woman hugs dogCollege of Dupage Nursing Student Nikki Szymanowski wrote for Healthy Lombard that any dog owner can tell you that dogs have such a huge influence on mental health. Dogs make people happy and anyone who owns a pet dog will attest to the fact that they can cheer them up even on their worst days. Studies have shown that dogs can ease the symptoms of anxiety, depression, stress, bipolar disorder, and PTSD (Yarborough et. al, 2017).  Dogs can combat loneliness in seniors who may have lost their spouses.  Dogs also encourage exercise and play, which can help with many physical and mental conditions.

Many veterans of the military end up with mental health issues, which correlates with the high incidence of unemployment, homelessness, and suicide among veterans. Many of these people may not seek out traditional mental health support. That’s where service dogs can come in. There are many organizations that match veterans up with service dogs to help with mental disorders such as depression, anxiety, or PTSD. In a study performed on veterans with PTSD, service dogs provided benefits to them in ways such as licking or nudging the veteran to help them stay present during flashbacks and helping them prevent panic attacks by focusing instead on the dog (Yarborough et. al, 2017).

Children with Autism often form a unique bond with service dogs. Dogs have been shown to help children with autism develop important communication and social skills. Like with veterans, service dogs can help calm autistic children during meltdowns. Many forms of autism cause children to have both social and emotional isolation and dogs provide a companion for these children when they are feeling like they are all alone in a crowded room. Several studies reviewed by the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine showed that autistic children benefited more from therapy sessions when therapy dogs were involved (Alliance of Therapy Dogs, 2019).

Another population that dogs can have an amazing effect on is the senior population. Many senior citizens may be suffering from depression or loneliness due to isolation in nursing homes or senior care facilities, or the death of their spouse. This is a serious problem and one that may be overlooked due to the fact that the elderly are usually being treated for other diseases or conditions that most people would consider more important. But depression in the elderly is not something to take lightly. Studies have shown that dogs can help treat depression in the elderly as well as encouraging them to get more active, which can also help with depression (Needell and Mehta-Naik, 2016).

In conclusion, dogs are more than just a cute face and a wagging tail. They can have serious effects on mental health, for many types of people. Your average dog owner can tell you how happy their dog makes them and how much they can improve their mood. More specifically, dogs can improve the mental health of certain populations such as seniors, children with autism, and veterans. As Charles M. Schulz once said, “Happiness is a warm puppy.”

References

Alliance of Therapy Dogs Inc. (2019, December 18). Nine Ways Therapy Dogs Can Help Kids with Autism: Therapy Dogs. Alliance of Therapy Dogs Inc. https://www.therapydogs.com/nine-ways-therapy-dogs-can-help-kids-with-autism/.

Needell, N. J., & Mehta-Naik, N. (2016, October 4). Is Pet Ownership Helpful in Reducing the Risk and Severity of Geriatric Depression? Geriatrics (Basel, Switzerland). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6371194/.

Yarborough, B. J. H., Search for more papers by this author, Owen-Smith, A. A., Stumbo, S. P., Yarborough, M. T., Perrin, N. A., … D, V. (2017, March 15). An Observational Study of Service Dogs for Veterans With Posttraumatic Stress Disorder. Psychiatric Services. https://ps.psychiatryonline.org/doi/full/10.1176/appi.ps.201500383.

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