Despite groundbreaking technology and new breakthroughs in medicine, for some patients, the best remedy is a four-legged companion. Over the past 30 years, the rise of therapy dogs has proven that dogs have tremendous healing power, from decreasing stress to even detecting imminent diseases.
It might sound too amazing to believe, but studies have proven that dogs are the next best thing to having a 24/7 doctor. And even better? They are excellent at providing support when we need them the most.
1. Dogs pick up behavior cues better than we can
It’s no surprise dogs have mastered body language. After all, they have to survive in a world full of people who don’t speak in barks. Dogs’ sense at noticing subtle shifts in behavior comes in handy when our emotions take a nose dive. The people around us might not notice when we’re feeling sad or sick, but dogs do. Slumped shoulders, fragile movements, and immobility are all things your dog notices, and once they do, they come to provide comfort.
“Dogs know [when] something is different, whether the smell changes or they are moving less,” Dr. Bonnie Beaver, professor at Texas A&M University’s College of Veterinary Medicine, told the Associated Press. “That’s how they read each other. They are great at it, and we are not.”
2. Simply being in contact with a dog makes us happier
And we’re not talking about the “warm fuzzies” either. Scientifically, dogs make us happier through mere touch alone. According to a study conducted at The University of Missouri Health, petting a dog releases all kinds of beneficial hormones, like endorphin, prolactin, dopamine, oxytocin, and beta phenylethylamine. These hormones make us happier and open a path to healing, which can mean the world to a person suffering from anxiety or mild depression.
3. Dogs provide a refuge from human interaction
You would think dogs being unable to talk would be a hinderance, but it’s actually the opposite. Because dogs don’t speak our language, they’re non-judgmental and accept us as we are, according to Creature Comfort: Animals That Heal by Bernie Graham. They also provide a needed break from human interaction when we’re not feeling emotionally able to handle it. Whatever social barriers that make communicating with human caretakers difficult aren’t a problem with a dog.
4. Dogs lower stress and increase overall well-being
When dogs comfort us, a domino effect happens. First, they make us happy and less stressed, according to WebMD. This increase in happiness then makes us more active, which in return improves overall health. For years, doctors have cited happiness as the key to being healthy. When dogs comfort us, they boost our entire well-being.
5. They detect possible illnesses before anyone else
In 2006, a medical study reported how ordinary non-trained dogs could identify breast and lung cancer patients by smelling their breath. Although the theory of dogs being able to detect diseases is still a new one that’s being studied, dogs’ keen sense of smell means they can detect subtle shifts in our chemical balance that we don’t always notice ourselves. When dogs sense this, they know to come to our aid, providing the kind of healing companionship that only a pet can provide.
Feature image by @monroeanimal