By: Arthur Liao
Your heart hammers against your chest as you get more and more overwhelmed about your day. Your emotional support dog immediately senses your discomfort and nudges you gently, licking your hand. You understand the nudge as a signal to focus on your breathing and slow down. Your heart rate returns to normal, and you continue walking like nothing happened, petting your emotional support dog as a thank you.
People have emotional support dogs to control their emotions and breathing, but even if you don’t need emotional support, spending less than ten minutes with a dog can help you calm down when stressed. Psychologists have researched and confirmed by running tests with children that being with a dog, even if it’s only for a couple minutes, produces oxytocin, known as the love hormone. Managing stress is important because it can interrupt your sleep levels, immune, and cardiovascular systems.
Nancy Gee is one of the psychologists who ran the canine-human experiments. Gee is also the director of the Centre for Human-Animal Interaction at Virginia Commonwealth University. Gee says there is evidence that shows people who spend about 5 to 20 minutes with mankind’s best friend (dogs of course) will experience an increase of oxytocin as well as a drop in the stress hormone cortisol. Professor Gee also said, “We see the same thing in dogs when they interact with humans.” Dogs’ oxytocin levels rise when they interact with humans. This also explains why dogs wag their tails when we pay attention to them.
In a recent study of eight and nine-year-old children, Professor Gee and her team discovered that kids who had exchanges with dogs two times a week were less stressed and had increased focus. The children's thinking and reasoning also improved.
Emotional support dogs should not be confused with service dogs however, as emotional support dogs are not trained as vigorously as service dogs. Emotional support dogs are meant to be therapeutic, and they aren’t trained to be as obedient as a service animal. Though they aren’t necessarily disobedient, they just aren’t trained to do household things like pull doorknobs, open a fridge, and so on.
Professor Megan Muller, who is an associate professor at the Cunnings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University, claims that dogs open up our world to let us see all the things going on in our surroundings. “Dogs live in the moment. They’re experiencing their environment with wonder all the time, and they’re not thinking about what happened to them earlier in the day or what they’re thinking about in the future. They’re in there right now,” Assoc Prof Mueller said.
A study in Canada reported that college students showed less stress and reduced feelings of homesickness when briefly connecting with dogs.
These studies show how important and how big of an effect there is when interacting with an emotional support dog. Now that you know how important emotional support dogs are, you should respect the service they provide their companions.
Mental Health Benefits of Emotional Support Animals.
Kids News: Spending 5min with a dog can make you happier | KidsNews
NIMH Stressed Out! Fact Sheet.