Uploaded by petschec

Say Yes to Dogs - A New Form of Pain Management

Chad Petschek
April 25, 2019
Say Yes to Dogs
When I was ten years old, I hit my head on the side of a table playing with my golden
retriever. My parents were not around and, feeling the lump that was beginning to form the side
of my head, I began to bawl my eyes out in fear. Right away, my dog laid her head on my lap,
whimpering until the tears stopped streaming from my face. She then got up and retrieved one of
her favorite chew toys, placing it on my lap and gently licking me until I had calmed down.
Many dog owners share similar stories of their pets expressing empathetic reactions to their
negative emotions.
The benefits of owning a pet have long been documented by medical researchers. When
forming relationships with pets, people are provided an opportunity to learn through positive
reinforcement. Pets offer a space of emotional investment and expression that is free of societal
implications or evaluation. The unconditional affection offered by a pet can allow people, and
specifically children, to hone their emotions and communication skills. A report conducted by
Megan Mueller of the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University analysed
567 adolescent relationships with pets. She found that kids who scored higher on measurements
of emotional connectedness had a greater degree of attachment with animals. While a causality
cannot be determined, Mueller noted that "this finding has important implications for the notion
that interactions with an animal may be a way to facilitate the emotions and social skills
necessary for developing and maintaining adaptive social relationships with other humans." 1
Animal interactions teach kids the bases of social cues, responsibilities, and boundaries. The
unconditional companionship of a pet allows children to play and develop at their own pace with
freedom and confidence.
Animals can also play an important role in increasing a child’s ability to empathize.
Empathy, or the awareness of others internal thoughts, feelings, or intentions, is an essential
human social skill. Raising an animal teaches a child to recognize a pet’s needs and desires and
increases a child’s capacity to empathize with non-human entities.2 In a study polling the
children of 88 pet owning and non-pet owning families, the researchers found significant
increases in children’s attitudes towards animals and their ability to empathize. The study
concluded that the, “Survey data... provided empirical support for the hypotheses that young
children derive developmental benefits from their interaction with their pets.” 3 Through animal
interactions, children are able to improve their emotional and social development as well as
sharpen their empathetic responses.
Goldman, J. (April 17, 2014). ​Are Pets Good for Kids?​ Published by the Scientific American. Retrieved from
​Hawkins, R., Williams, J. (May 2017). ​Childhood Attachment to Pets: Associations between Pet Attachment,
Attitudes to Animals, Compassion, and Humane Behaviour.​ Published by National Center for Biotechnology
Information. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5451941/
​Howe, B. (March 2014). ​The relationship between empathy and pet ownership, pet attitudes and pet
attachment in late childhood.​ Published by the Dublin Business School, School of Arts, Dublin. Retrieved from
Some researchers are now broadening their scopes and examining the therapeutic effects
of human-pet relations on mental and physical health.4 Dogs are the most common pet used for
animal assisted therapy due to their calming demeanor and attentiveness to human emotion.
Medical professionals are now taking advantage of the positive emotional responses that result
from human-dog interactions. By developing forms of treatment that utilize the cognitive
benefits of a healthy human-dog relationship, professionals can facilitate the emotional
expression and social interactions of patients. In 2017, 22.8% of all drug overdose deaths in the
United States were linked to benzodiazepines or antidepressants, two popular forms of
medication for those with PTSD or anxiety.5 Canine assisted therapy could eliminate the need for
these dangerous and addictive pharmaceutical medications for patients who respond strongly to
the treatment.
A multitude of studies have confirmed the psychological and physiological benefits of a
human-dog relationship. Engaging in physical contact with a companion animal has been proven
to promote relaxation, decreasing a subject’s blood pressure stress-related hormone levels.
Canine assisted therapy is a positive form of treatment that focuses on improving a patient’s
comfort. A patient’s uncomfortability may be caused by pain, illness, or anxiety. In all three
cases, therapeutic animal interaction sessions have been shown to improve the mental wellbeing
​Fawcett, N., Gullone, E. (June 2001). ​Cute and Cuddly and a Whole Lot More? A Call for Empirical Investigation
into theTherapeutic Benefits of Human–AnimalInteraction for Children​. Published by Monash University. Retrieved
National Institute on Drug Abuse. (January 2019). ​Overdose Death Rates.​ Published by NIDA. Retrieved from
of patients.6 Introducing a neutral, calming presence into forms of therapy can increase one’s
receptiveness of a treatment, and in turn, the effectiveness of the treatment.7
A South African study conducted at the University of Pretoria evaluated volunteers’
neurochemical responses to a dog interaction. The volunteers, who were self reported to have
affection towards dogs prior to the experiment, interacted with a dog in a controlled setting. The
humans of the experiment were subjected to a blood sample and blood pressure reading before
and after the interaction in order to document any variations. The results indicated decreased
blood pressure levels and “...showed significant increases in plasma β-endorphin, oxytocin,
prolactin, phenylacetic acid, and dopamine.” 8 This physiological response has been linked to
human feelings of calmness, relaxation, attraction, and pleasure. In a therapeutic setting, dogs
can serve as a antidepressant or calming agent in lieu of medication.
Due to these psychological benefits, canine assisted therapy has proven to be an effective
aid to mental health treatment for victims of trauma. One study evaluating the effects of canine
assisted therapy on children who have experienced sexual abuse found intriguing results. 153
children ranging from seven to seventeen years of age were split up and enrolled in three distinct
group therapy sessions for 14 weeks. Two of the three groups facilitated the therapy by
​Marcus, D. (February 2013). ​The Science Behind Animal-Assisted Therapy.​ Published by Springer. Retrieved from
​Addiction A-Z. ​Canine Assisted Therapy.​ Published by Addiction A-Z. Retrieved from
​Odendaal, J., Meintjes, R. (May 2003). ​Neurophysiological Correlates of Affiliative Behaviour between Humans
and Dogs​. Published by the University of Pretoria. Retreived from
introducing dogs to the group sessions for thirty minutes before the therapy began. The results of
the study were significant: children in the canine assisted therapy groups reported much lower
levels of depression, anger, and PTSD at the end of the therapy course.9 “The literature indicates
that AAT [animal assisted therapy] can augment many types of treatment, for example
cognitive-behavioral, trauma-focused cognitive-behavioral, or play therapy. We suggest that
others consider incorporating AAT into their work particularly with children who are sexual
abuse survivors or have experienced other types of trauma, regardless of treatment modality.”
Canine assisted therapy has also proven to be effective in treating combat veterans with PTSD. A
report conducted by researchers of the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology tested the
effectiveness of combined service dog therapy and and clinical treatments on veterans with
PTSD. The results were compared with a control group of similar veterans receiving only the
clinical treatments. The report found that veterans with service dogs reported 20% higher levels
of perceived mental health improvements at the end of the treatment course.10
Canine assisted therapy has the potential to improve treatment methods for a variety
mental illnesses, while cutting down on the need for dangerous or addictive drugs. This clinical
aid is a form of behavioral activation, a treatment used to increase one’s engagement in activities
that have been shown to improve mood. Depression, addiction, obesity, and attention deficit
Dietz, T. (November 29, 2012). ​Evaluating Animal-Assisted Therapy in Group Treatment for Child Sexual Abuse​.
Published by Taylor and Francis Online. Retrieved from
O’Haire, M., Rodriguez, K. (February 2018). Preliminary efficacy of service dogs as a complementary treatment
for posttraumatic stress disorder in military members and veterans. Published by the Journal of Consulting and
Clinical Psychology. Retrieved from
disorders have all been positively corrected using behavioral activation methods.11 As the rate of
mental illnesses in adolescents and drug overdoses continue to rise in the United States, it is vital
that the medical community pursue alternative, safer forms of treatment in order to combat the
proliferation of these issues.
​Rogers Behavioral Health. (January 16, 2014). ​What is Behavioral Activation?​ Published by Rogers Behavioral
Health. Retrieved from https://rogersbh.org/about-us/newsroom/blog/what-behavioral-activation