The Health Benefits of a Therapy Dog


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Question: What can lower blood pressure, improve cardiovascular health, ease physical pain, and even possibly reduce the use of some medications in older adults?

Answer: A therapy dog.

What is a Therapy Dog

According to the American Kennel Club (AKC), therapy dogs are dogs who go with their pet parents to volunteer in a variety of settings. Generally, this includes schools, hospitals, nursing homes, assisted living facilities, and even visits to private homes. In essence, therapy dogs and their owners work together as a team to help improve the lives of other people.

Any shape, size, or breed of canine can become a therapy dog. However, all therapy dogs must have a gentle and loving temperament towards humans, and follow commands. It addition dogs should not jump or paw people, and be social in many different settings. Pet owners can socialize and train therapy dogs themselves to learn 10 basic commands. In addition, pet parents can also obtain the AKC Canine Good Citizen title or the AKC Advanced Good Citizen title for their therapy dogs.

The AKC notes that therapy dogs are not service dogs. Service dogs are canines who are highly trained to perform specific tasks to help a person who has a specific disability such as blindness or other medical condition, including anxiety, diabetes, or epilepsy. Furthermore, service dogs live with their pet parents on a continual basis and have special access privileges in public places such as planes and restaurants. Therapy dogs do not have the same special access.

Health Benefits of a Therapy Dog

The UCLA People-Animal Connection (PAC) is one of the most comprehensive Animal-Assisted Therapy and Activity (AAT/A) programs in the nation. Established in 1994, PAC volunteer teams (canine and human partner) have made over 120,000 visits to patients at UCLA medical settings and thousands more throughout the UCLA campus, affiliate locations, and community events. In fact, over many years, thousands of UCLA students have benefited from PAC visits during stressful final exam week.

PAC notes many physical and mental health benefits of therapy dog visits including:


    • Petting an animal releases hormones that help elevate mood
    • Reduces anxiety, promotes relaxation, provides comfort, and reduces loneliness
    • Can assist in memory and help sequence events in patients with head injuries or chronic diseases including dementia
    • Lowers blood pressure and improves cardiovascular health
    • Help reduce the number of medications people take
    • Decrease physical pain
    • Provides an escape or distraction from life’s worries
    • Can help promote mental health therapy


If you or a loved one live in any type of senior care facility and would like a visit from a therapy dog ask your facility administrator to contact the Alliance of Therapy Dogs (ATD). The organization can help put a facility get in touch with volunteers and their therapy dogs to schedule a visit.




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