Pet Therapy is "Clinically Proven"

Pet Therapy is "Clinically Proven"

Vijai P. Sharma, Ph.D

A friend of mine once sent me an email with the title, "If A Dog Were Your Teacher." I have to say I agreed with the basic premise. Dogs can be good models to follow. If you selectively adopt many of their behaviors (not all behaviors, please!), you will make yourself a human of rare breed! Your family and friends will "love to have you" all the time.

Here are a few dog teachings I have selected for forming excellent relationships:
When loved ones come home, always run to greet them.
If your family wants to go for a joy ride, ask no questions, get on your feet and join them.
Be ecstatic about simple things of life, like the wind, flowers, trees or lampposts. Discover the joy in such simple and inexpensive entertainment as sprawling over the grass and rolling over and over.
When someone invades the territory of loved ones, raise a hue and cry and protect them.
Always respond positively when loved ones give you attention or need physical contact with you. Be ready and willing for an affectionate hug or a neck and back rub.
Avoid "biting" when a simple 'growl" will do.
When you are happy, don't be shy to show it. When you are happy, dance around and wag your whole body.
If rebuffed by your loved ones, don't pout or "snarl." Try to win a smile and a pat on your back by your loved one.
When your loved one is having a bad day, you don't have to say anything, just sit close.
Above all, be loyal. Live up to the trust of your loved ones.

From using the dog as a teacher, let's now turn our attention to the premise of dog as therapists.

Some of the highest rated qualities of a human therapist are that he or she should be non-judgmental, noncommittal, totally independent and not too emotionally involved with his or her client. In order to be non-judgmental, a human therapist has to take all precautions against undue emotional involvement.

A dog as a therapist has no such constraints. A dog can be totally dependent, extremely emotionally involved and committed to its owner, and still be non-judgmental and offer unconditional love. Only super human beings can achieve such a state of being. Incidentally, animal rights activists may substitute the term "companion" for "owner." For convenience, we will use the traditional term, "pet owner."

A number of studies in the past have shown that pet owners experience less stress and even lower mortality rates after a heart attack compared to those who do not own a pet.

A recent study conducted at State University of New York (SUNY) at Buffalo involved hundreds of male and female subjects who were asked to perform such stressful task as the rapid serial subtraction. Researchers found that heart rate and blood pressure of those who had pets by their side didn't rise as much as that of those without pets.

Furthermore, recovery from an elevated heart rate and blood pressure was found to be quicker for pet owners.

The researchers went on to ask another question: Could it be that pets have a more beneficial benefit on your stress management ability than even your loved ones?

The SUNY research shows that during the mental arithmetic tasks, pet owners and non pet-owners both demonstrate highest elevation of heart rate and blood pressure in the presence of their spouses.

The heart of those who don't own a pet shows less cardiac reactivity to stress when they are alone. However, heart of pet owners races less under stressful situation if pets are by their side.

In the same study, pet owners showed less adverse reaction in the presence of their spouse, when their pets were also beside them. It is as if the pets act as a stress buffer between them and their spouses.

Should we assume from this that if you want to manage your stress better, you should practice having both pet and spouse alongside you at all times?

Jokes apart, the fact is that when we perform a task, we are anxious about being judged by another, even if that person is our partner. But, we view ours pets to be totally non-judgmental.

Isn't it somewhat unsettling to think that pets are better for stress management than therapists or even our partners?

The saying, "If you want a friend on the Hill get a dog!" should be modified as, "If you want a totally non-judgmental companion anywhere anytime, get a dog!"

Next time if you don't like someone, don't contort your face with disgust and use some epithets like, "Animal!" or "Dawg!" Animals play by rules and humans often don't.

Pet lovers already knew pets are good teachers and therapists before they read this article.

Return to Self Help 

Copyright 2003, Mind Publications 
Posted July 2003


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