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Furry Friends and Guardians: The Benefits of Therapy Dogs for People with Mental Conditions

It’s long been known that interaction with dogs can help mitigate the symptoms of people struggling with mental and physical problems. Trained therapy dogs can take it a step or two further, providing emotional support and logistical assistance so that people with mental disorders can function on a day-to-day basis, both socially and in private. In many cases, they’re able to help individuals continue to lead productive lives. Therapy dogs are, by law, allowed to go anywhere a disabled person can go. Mental patients easily develop strong emotional attachments to their canine companions and a greater sense of confidence in general. They play together, laugh together, and work together, leading to the kind of close relationships that can be so difficult for people with mental issues to maintain.

Emotional support

Service dogs are trained to help mental patients calm down and deal with emotional upset in positive ways. One of a therapy dog’s most useful tasks is to keep others from crowding their master too close in public and to recognize when he’s about to have an anxiety attack, responding with affection in order to head off a violent reaction. They are also effective in helping their masters control PTSD, depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts.

Physical assistance

Mental disorders can make it very difficult for individuals to perform even simple tasks, like taking their medications every day. Therapy dogs can help remind patients about medicines, help with mobility problems, keep their master from falling because of balance problems, alert him when someone is at the door or if a smoke detector goes off, and when the phone is ringing. If the patient is in a wheelchair, a trained dog can be trained to pull the chair along and to help his master get in and out of it, or help retrieve objects that have been dropped.

Medical problems

The well-being of a mental patient often depends on their taking prescriptions as directed. A dog can help make sure this happens in a timely manner by retrieving the medicine as well as a beverage to take it with. If the individual suffers some kind of attack or experiences another health problem, a therapy dog can even call 911 via a specially designed K9 device.


People with a serious mental condition often lack the confidence and initiative to get involved socially. Simply walking a dog, trained or not, can present opportunities for people to be more social; individuals with a mental or emotional condition often find it helpful to lend themselves to dog walking services as a means of gently integrating into social scenes. Additionally, the intervention of a trained dog can help them overcome such reluctance, helping overcome potentially awkward social situations and challenges that would be hard to overcome without help. The Kids Cures Foundation’s Comfort K-9 Program uses trained dogs to help children throughout their childhood to provide comfort and safety.

Safe driving

Operating a motor vehicle can be a difficult issue for someone with a mental condition. Though legally entitled if they have a driver’s license, a mental patient may become impaired either due to prescriptions, depression, or because of some totally unpredictable mental upset. Therapy dogs can be trained to intervene if their owner begins to drive too fast or erratically by barking or nudging the individual, prompting him to slow down or pull over.

Security and protection

Service dogs make excellent guardians and watch dogs, alerting their master if an intruder tries to enter their home. Specially trained dogs can even turn on lights, open doors, and even help their owner escape in the event of an emergency, like a fire. Thanks to the Air Carrier Access Act, mental patients are allowed to take therapy dogs on airline flights. All that’s required is a note from a doctor, therapist or some other mental health professional.

Therapy dogs can be trained to help individuals with mental issues overcome many of the emotional, physical and logistical problems that prevent them from interacting socially. In so doing, dogs can help patients integrate into society, and aid in their recovery. They can even help their masters stay safe in a number of scenarios.

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