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Animal Assisted Therapy Really Works! Here's The Science!


By harrisjensen - Posted on 11 January 2012

Dogs, Cats and Horses Can Be Used To Heal Us!

Here's How People Use Our Animal Companions To Heal Illnesses All Over The World!

by Harris Jensen, MD

Editor, Good Day Journal

Like a few psychiatrists, and many psychologists, I have a dog in the

of

fice.  They are wonderful!  Kind, caring, friendly, devoted.  A fabulous addition to create a warm and inviting, and yes, therapeutic office environment.

Just to pet a dog can soothe anxious nerves, lower blood pressure, help a person turn thoughts away from problems and onto finding solutions.

That's right!  A warm and friendly dog with a wagging tail can help a person change their thoughts and behaviors to change their feelings!  That is the essence of cognitive behavior therapy, that changing cognitions (thoughts) and behavior (actions) can over time change emotions.

Wikipedia has a great article summarizing the world wide history of animals being used this way to better our lives.  Here is the link to that article:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Animal-assisted_therapy

Why are animals so helpful? 

They in part have a need to please those they've bonded to.  It helps they can read our body language too, seeing our level of distress from our facial expressions, tone of voice, and some dogs can even understand words on the level of a 1 or two year old child.  They can even smell odors we give off when we are sad or anxious.  Isn't that amazing.

They also have a need to comfort members of their family.

Commonly in my office, a patient will come in the front door and my black or brown lab will greet them at the door!  I haven't taught them this, they just figured it out on their own.  That I find amazing.  Once a patient checks in with Becky, and sit down to read some magazine in the waiting area, the dog greets them again.

Charley, our chocolate lab, he's five years old, will sit with head held up and proud, just the right distace away so he can be petted.  They he will show his total love for all the adoration showered on him.  He'll squit his eyes in happiness, raise his nose, scoot closer to you for more petting.  He's really loving this affection and hoping you are too!

Elsker, our black lab, now 11 years old, will sit near the patient and gets some petting, then give someone a kiss and lay at their feet to warm them...emotionally.  Both Charley and Elsker can lay at your feet as if to show you that you are accepted here, appreciated, included...and the dog wants to be with you.

For some, Charley and Elsker will lean against you.  That is another expression of acceptance, only deeper.  Yes, our labs are "leaners."

Charley and Elsker can lean their heads onto your lap or against your leg or hand, Elsker (pronounced El Ska, which is "Friend" in Norwegian...she was born on May 17, Norwegian Independence Day) will also look into your eyes to emphasize her effort to accept you and feel close to you, but Charley is a male, eye contact can be seen as a display for dominance so he avoids that out of respect for you.  What does leaning their head hard on you mean?  It means they understand you are "family."

No wonder dogs are such great comforters.  They are masters at the art of comforting and soothing others!  Hurray for our animal companions.  I've had them coming to my office for 11 years now.  Or in Dog Years, that would be 77 years I guess.  What great members of our office they are!