Therapy dog statistics and facts show how amazing dogs can be to our mental health, especially when they are trained to help humans deal with and overcome challenges such as anxiety, depression, PTSD, dementia, among other mental disorders.
Therapy dogs can help humans in so many ways: physically, emotionally and psychologically.
In this article I will share some therapy dog statistics and facts, for everyone who needs a little push towards getting a therapy dog or training their dog to be one.
By Mila Bander.
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There are over 50,000 trained therapy dogs in the United States only
Just being around dogs is already therapeutic, but there are over 50 thousand trained and certified therapy dogs in the U.S only. And 60% of US hospice providers use complementary pet therapies.
The American College Health Association shared that 65.7% of US college students felt overwhelming anxiety. Around 96% of college students are in favor of pet therapy on campus. Over 60% of US colleges have a pet therapy program.
These certified therapy dogs often visit hospitals and other facilities to interact with patients, from children battling against cancer, to seniors.
Such good boys and girls!
Dogs Are the Perfect Therapy Pet
Because of their personality and willingness to please their owner, dogs are the perfect pet to be a therapy pet, even if they aren’t yet officially trained, they can offer many mental health benefits to their owner and anyone who comes in contact with them.
For example, during the pandemic, the adoption of dogs increased a lot.
More than 23 million American households adopted a pet during the pandemic, according to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), and most of these pets were dogs.
Some shelters reported to have rehomed 13 dogs a day during the pandemic.
People were seeking companionship and emotional support during those trying times, and dogs were the perfect candidates for giving unconditional love and bringing joy to their hearts and homes.
Therapy Dogs Can Help in Many Things
It has been shown that therapy dogs can help in various mental and even physical issues such as insomnia and panic attacks.
Some benefits of dog-assisted therapy are:
- Reduction of stress hormones
- Reduced blood pressure
- Pain alleviation
- Improved mental state
- Better joint movement and motor skills
- Better development of social skills
- Increased motivation to exercise
- And so much more.
It’s hard to measure just how much therapy dogs can help, but they certainly help in many things.
Therapy Dogs Can Help Lower Blood Pressure By At Least 10%
Research found that spending just 15 minutes petting a dog can lower blood pressure by 10%.
Therapy dogs can also reduce stress hormones and increase serotonin, oxytocin and prolactin, and can also be trained to disrupt impulsive or self-harming behavior.
A study found that therapy dogs reduced blood pressure and improves heart rate in residents in a nursing home. The study concludes:
“A therapy dog–handler team might constitute an effective non-medical treatment for elevated blood pressure and heart rate in older adults. This type of treatment may in the future be used to treat, to prevent, or to delay the development of cardiovascular disease in older people. It may also promote health in a more general sense and decrease use of pharmaceutical drugs, which might be associated with undesirable side effects.”
Therapy Dogs Are Beneficial to Teens Suffering from Mental Health Issues
A study published in 2019 researched the impact of canine-assisted psychotherapy in mentally ill teenagers from ages 10 to 19.
The study analyzed factors such as tolerability, feasibility, and acceptability.
The results of the study were positive.
There was an increase in socialization and a reduction in disorderly conduct. The study also reported that “good attendance and retention rates indicated high levels of acceptability.”
Another study aimed at teenagers with acute mental disorders came to the conclusion that Animal-Assisted Therapy (AAT) with dogs had significant positive effects on therapeutic progress and recovery process.
Therapy Dogs are Not the Same as Service Dogs
Some people believe therapy dogs are the same as service dogs, but this is a misunderstanding; therapy dogs are different than service dogs in quite a few ways.
These are two different jobs, so to say.
A seeing-eye dog – a service dog will guide their blind owner places, they will also know how to support and help someone with a disability.
For this reason, service dogs are allowed inside places such as restaurants and planes.
Therapy dogs are not allowed inside every area. And trying to pass a therapy dog as a service dog can create a lot of problems not only for the person, but also people who need their service dog by their side at all times.
Any Dog can Be a Therapy Dog
When you imagine a therapy or service dog, chances are you imagine a golden retriever or a Labrador Retriever. This probably happens because these breeds simply love to please their owners.
But did you know other dog breeds can also be therapy dogs? As long as they’re the companion type or have the companion personality.
Any dog breed can become a therapy dog. Some of the most frequent breeds are poodles, Labradors and St. Bernards.
Even smaller dogs can make for excellent therapy dogs.
Therapy Dogs and PTSD Service Dogs Help Soldiers with PTSD
Therapy dogs are not a new invention; while you may have just heard of them in recent years, therapy dogs date back to World War II, when they were employed to help lift the spirits recovering soldiers suffering from PTSD.
Therapy dogs and PTSD service dogs help veterans nowadays by performing specific tasks such as waking someone from a nightmare or using their weight to calm a person who’s having a panic attack.
That being said, those with a service dog actually rated their dog’s untrained behaviors higher than the trained ones.
The First Certified Therapy Dog Was a Yorkshire Terrier
Smoky, a little 1.8kg Yorkshire Terrier that followed nurses at a hospital in New Guinea while they dealt with battlefield casualties, was the first certified therapy dog (on record), although animal-assisted therapy started in ancient Greek.
Smoky helped so much, that not only she continued to operate as a therapy dog for 12 years after the war ended; other dogs followed her path, and now therapy dogs are more and more common.
Even Stray Dogs Can Be Therapy Dogs
Jessica McCabe, actress and writer best known as the host for the YouTube channel ‘How to ADHD’, has a small (part chihuahua) adopted stray dog that works as an emotional support animal, and is currently being trained to be a psychiatric service dog.
In the video below, you can see Jessica talking about training her part chihuahua dog to be a psychiatric service dog, and the benefits of that.
81.8% Of Children with Autism Prefer to Play with Dogs & other Animals Than Toys
Over 50% of people with autism struggle to form relationships. But studies showed that children with autism are more prone to socialize when being exposed to therapy dogs.
Turner & Hooch, a popular show on Disney+, actually showed the positive effect a dog can have in children with autism.
In a certain episode, a child with autism who didn’t want to talk to anyone or make eye contact, laughed and became more social when he was with the dog.
A therapy dog can help children and even adults with autism feel more comfortable with talking and making eye contact.
Tug-of-war, cuddling, and fetch are all fantastic ways to encourage a well-rounded physical and psychological education with a therapy dog.
Autistic children may struggle communicating, but via hugs and pet play, they may access those human emotions more easily.
Dogs Can Help Children Learn How to Read
Dogs might not know how to read, but that won’t stop them from helping kids learn how! And in a very simple way: by just being there and listening.
And there’s even a study to prove that.
Children with learning disabilities can feel intimidated and self-conscious, not to mention frustrated when learning to read aloud.
But when a therapy dog is listening, they are a calm, non-judgmental audience that children can calmly and confidently practice reading to.
Dogs Can Help Inmates in Prison Rehabilitate
In 2002, there was a program called “Pups in Prison” that brought dogs to be trained by inmates (under the guidance of a professional dog trainer) and in doing so, these inmates learned skills to help themselves in their own rehabilitation.
Training the dogs gave inmates a sense of focus and achievement while also giving the community great assistance dogs.