More than just a best friend? The rise of therapy dogs and their role in mental health care.

Woman with therapy dog

Now, before we get started, full disclosure, this blog is bound to be biased as the team at Xpert Psychology LOVE dogs. From Cocker Spaniels to Labradors, we are dog obsessed, so what better way of giving the pups a bit of airtime than discussing all things therapy dogs!

What is a therapy dog? 

First things first, it’s important to know that a therapy dog is different to an assistance dog. Unlike trained assistance dogs who support people to carry out important tasks in everyday life, therapy dogs serve more of a psychological purpose and help people to feel better. 

Therapy dogs can live with people full time, whilst others make visits to people in hospitals, care homes and schools. Although you might not have been lucky enough to meet a therapy dog, around 6,300 dogs are registered as Pets as Therapy (PAT) dogs in the UK. That’s a whole lot of tail wags and fluffy snuggles. 

How are therapy dogs trained? 

Anyone who owns a dog can apply to have it trained as a therapy dog. According to Motability, to be considered for training, dogs must be at least nine months old and have been with their owners for a minimum of six months. Dogs must pass a temperament test and be okay with loud noises, lots of people and being around strangers. 

How can a therapy dog help? 

A recent study conducted by Lebid and Simonova in 2021 showed that just petting a dog can ease stress levels and reduce blood-pressure. Positive impacts of therapy dogs have been shown in children, adults, and older adults. They are thought to help easy symptoms of: 

  • Depression and low mood
  • Anxiety 
  • Stress  
  • Loneliness 
  • Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. 

In 2021, Cameron, Craig and McBain also showed therapy involving a dog improved people’s sense of social support and their sense of their own overview wellbeing. Impressive ai! 

Accessing a therapy dog 

If you’re considering working with or using a PAT dog to support your own mental well-being, we would recommend checking out the Pets as Therapy (PAT) website, as they act as a certification group for privately owned PAT dogs. 

Looking for help?

If you are looking for help with your mental health and want to explore talking therapies, why not click here to head over to our website and check out what our brilliant group of clinical psychologists offer. 

Please note, we do not offer an emergency crisis service. If you need support or are worried about somebody, contact NHS 111 option 2, Samaritans 116123 or text Shout to 85258. If you need emergency support or your situation is life-threatening, visit your local accident and emergency department. Help is always available. 

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