Can a Dog Help You Live a Happier Life?
If you already have a dog, you know having a dog can help you live a happier life. They offer companionship, comfort, and can help ease loneliness.
Amanda Banks Galer, LCSW, Child and Family Therapist at St. Elizabeth Outpatient Behavioral Health program says, “Dogs offer so many mental health benefits if you find the right dog for your needs. Dogs can boost your confidence, be a best friend and they can help you break down walls and build meaningful relationships.”
In fact, dogs have been man’s best friend for hundreds of years. Having a dog encourages its owner to get out and enjoy the world, increasing exercise and socialization. In a study published in the Journal of Applied Developmental Science in 2014, researchers found people who owned pets were more likely to report helping others, being involved in community service and taking on leadership roles. Other research has shown that pet ownership can cause lower rates of depression, lower blood pressure, elevate serotonin and dopamine, and lower triglycerides and cholesterol, not only because of their companionship but because of the increased movement of your body when you spend time walking and playing with your dog.
Emotional Support Dogs Are More Than a Family Pet
Although being a dog owner provides many people enough comfort, there are also dogs trained to comfort and soothe. Amanda says, “Beyond the family pet, there are dogs and animals whose main objective is to work. It is a hot topic right now, surrounded by a lot of controversies due to there being little guidance on rules and regulations that govern such support animals.”
Amanda describes the three different levels of support animals that provide service work for people with varying issues from disabilities to seizure disorders and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
- Service Dog – a dog trained to perform tasks for the benefit of a person with a disability. They are protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act, and may travel in any location where any other typical human could travel. Service dogs are typically bred and raised from birth to perform a specific task that can assist the visually challenged or those with mobility, balance issues or major problems with gross motor skills. Recently, service dogs have been considered for those who suffer from PTSD.
- Therapy Dog – a dog and their handler are trained and certified as a team to provide affection and comfort to people suffering from illness or trauma. The team must pass a rigorous test to become certified, and are typically insured by their certifying agency. They typically work in nursing homes, hospitals, schools or hospices. Volunteer with your dog at St. Elizabeth!
- Emotional Support Dog – a dog who provides emotional comfort. This level of working dog is the most controversial because it only requires a letter from a qualified mental health professional, stating you are certified as emotionally disabled and could benefit from the use of an emotional support pet. There are no rules for training, insurance or oversight of such pets, and are allowed on properties at the discretion of the owner.
Amanda explains, “The truth is, any pet can provide emotional support to its owner, and research has shown the positive benefits of pet ownership to physical and emotional health. However, it is imperative that any pet owner make a responsible choice in choosing a dog that will enhance their life, rather than causing the type of chaos that erupts when we attempt to put them in a role they are not suited for.”
For more information or to schedule an appointment at St. Elizabeth Physicians Outpatient Behavioral Health, please call (859) 301-5901. And as always – call for help immediately if you feel like you could hurt yourself or others.