A True Best Friend

Brian Koo

Having a pet nowadays is a common thing in families all around the world.  One of the most common household pet is a dog and a common saying of dogs is that they are “A man’s best friend”.  Dogs are extremely energetic and will bring joy to anyone who sees them wagging their tail.  However, dogs can do much more than just simply be family pets; they can neurologically and physiologically affect how you react around them or around a certain predicament.

While the neurological reasoning behind dog therapy has not always been known, its therapeutic effect has always been prevalent throughout history.  Animal therapy, in records, originated from the ancient Greeks.  During these times, horses were used instead of dogs for the therapeutic effects.  Patients that were ill would ride on the backs of horses to raise their spirits and make them feel calm.  Both dog and equestrian (horse) therapy derived from animal therapy, but today, dog therapy is the most common in the world.

With anything in the medical world, there are always concerns and hazards that people are weary about.  For therapy dogs, the most common issues are whether they are properly vaccinated or properly trained to be an effective therapy dog.  There have been some opposition to the use of therapy dogs but for the most part, they are widely accepted throughout many hospitals.  These dogs are properly taken care of by their caretakers and are made sure they are well trained and properly vaccinated to insure the safety of both patient and dog.

So how does dog therapy actually work?  It is commonly known that the majority of people feel happy and gleeful when they are around a cute animal, but what truly allows dog therapy to be effective?  The answer is behind the different hormones released when a person interacts with a dog.  A study released by the Journal of Psychosomatic Research showed the different hormones released when a human and a dog interacted together.  It showed that hormones such as beta-endorphins and prolactin (these are released when a person feels stressed) were released similarly in both the person and dog.

The main difference, however, seemed to be the levels of oxytocin released in each.  This was noted to be much higher in humans after interacting with a dog.  Oxytocin (another type of hormone known as the “cuddle hormone”) is a great indicator of the neurochemicals measured for social attachment on animals.  This evidence showed why humans felt loved being around animals even if they were in a predicament.  As shown by the given evidence that oxytocin plays a huge impact on the effectiveness of dog therapy, there have been experiments conducted in different scenarios in order to prove that dog therapy is indeed effective and health concerns are the least of worries.

One experiment was conducted at Indiana University during finals week in both the fall and spring semester.  In order to prove that dog therapy was effective outside of the medical scenario, the university library was the chosen location for the therapy dogs to be at.  Hundreds of students came to the library during the week since they had to study for their finals.  To gather data, the students were asked questions before and after interacting with the therapy dogs.  From the 449 students that had taken part of the experiment, 93% reported that the therapy dogs had lowered their stress levels and made them feel a lot more relaxed.  These responses showed that the dog therapy had indeed de-stressed the students from studying for their finals.

A similar method of studying was done but in a medical scenario.  This study was conducted in a large urban teaching hospital in Irvine, California.  A teaching hospital is different from a normal hospital for it provides clinical education and training to future and current physicians, nurses, and other health professionals, in addition to delivering medical care to patients.  In this experiment, both patients and workers were surveyed in order to see if dog therapy was indeed effective.  The total number of patients and workers surveyed were 125 and 105 respectively.  From the patients, 96% of them agreed that the 30-minute dog therapy sessions made them feel relieved and calm for the first time ever since being entered into the hospital.  97% of the workers agreed that dog therapy helped the patients since they could notice a difference when interacting with them.  These high percentages from both studies showed how effective dog therapy really is in both the medical and non-medical world.

Overall, the use of dog therapy has been proven to be very effective with little to no repercussions on either the patient, worker, or dog-handler.  The universal response from studies and actual use of dog therapy has been very good meaning that dog therapy is beneficial.  People should enjoy their time with their dogs and utilize dog therapy whenever available because dogs are indeed a true best friend.

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