Mental Health Benefits of Animals on “Ruff” Days

Have you ever noticed how your dog senses when you’re upset, hurt, or having anxiety? They come in closer, they try and comfort you. It’s a remarkable fact that dogs are not only man’s best friend but also human’s emotional support. According to 2016 American Pet Products Association statistics show that about 79.7 million households in the United States own a companion animal which is about 65% of the American home population with majority owning dogs. There is growing research on the mental health benefits dogs really have on human emotions and behavior.

I may be biased, but there is no greater feeling than coming home to a beloved dog or pet that greets you after a long day at work, school, or running errands. They are always excited to see you as if you were gone forever. They provide that notion of feeling loved, cared for, and important to someone, even if it is a dog. It’s a known characteristic that dogs are loyal but they have special intuitive senses that allow them to be emotional support animals, therapy dogs, service and law enforcement animals. There’s an article that showed that just the sight of a dog can produce a smile in the majority of people.

What is Animal Assisted Therapy
Animal-assisted therapy (AAT) integrates trained animals into the therapeutic process to facilitate clients’ progress toward therapeutic goals. Research has shown AAT to enhance positive social behaviors, self-esteem, psychophysiological well-being, client motivation, and confidence. They also help build rapport, enhance trust, and enable feelings of safety in a therapeutic environment. However, therapy dogs are different from emotional support animals which are also different from service animals. Therapy dogs are evaluated, trained, and approved by specialists from credible agencies to provide as an aid in a therapeutic environment. Emotional support animals don’t need any formal training but rather naturally provide owners therapeutic benefits through comfort and companionship. Emotional support animal letters are becoming more and more popular to allow for travel and avoid housing fees, however, that is only for individuals that meet criteria for a mental health disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Service dogs are trained to help people with physical, mental, and debilitating disabilities such as visual impairments, seizure disorders, diabetes, panic disorders, PTSD etc. Service dogs are working dogs and have specific laws required by the ADA. Overall, dogs are special in the ample amount of unconditional love and support they provide.

Growing mental health benefits that dogs provide according to research studies:
• Stress reduction
• Decrease in depression
• Increase in self-esteem
• Decrease in oppositional behavior
• Decrease in trauma symptoms
• Decrease in generalized and social anxiety
• Increase in anger management
• Reduced feelings of isolation and loneliness
• Increase in social support
• Support in grieving process
• Enhanced ability to cope with stressors of everyday life
• Increased levels of life satisfaction
• Increased sense of trust, safety, and security
• Increased overall emotional stability and regulation
• Increased sense of responsibility
• Increase in socialization skills

These benefits were reported by peer-reviewed scholarly research studies specifically conducted with dogs, however, all sorts of animals have shown to provide support. If you’re one that fears dogs, is allergic, or simply does not like them, then you may still receive the mental health benefits from another companion animal. The bottom line is that if you find yourself feeling depressed, anxious, or stressed or are fighting the swords of loneliness, you may benefit from having an animal in the house. If that is not possible for financial reasons or otherwise, you can look into volunteering at an animal shelter, spending time at parks or zoos, or offering to care for a friend’s pet every once in a while. Animals provide wonderful coping skills for those really hard days you don’t want to get out of bed or those days where you’re feeling a little stressed. Go out and pet a dog today and see how you feel.

If you’re having a “ruff” time and need some extra support, please contact Life Enhancement Counseling Services today at 407-443-8862 to schedule an appointment with one of our experienced Orlando mental health counselors.


LECS Counselor