How Do Therapy Dogs Help People Cope with Anxiety?

Therapy Dogs Help People Cope with Anxiety

Posted June 2020 by John Sherk, B.S.W., B.S. Bible; MDiv.; 6 updates since. Reading time: 5 min. Reading level: Grade 6+. Questions on benefits of therapy dogs? Email Toni at:

The benefits of having a pet are incalculable. For example, playing with a dog or cat can elevate levels of both serotonin and dopamine. Those with pets are less likely to suffer from depression than those without pets. When it comes to dogs, not only do they bring these benefits, but they’re incredibly loyal, dutiful, and can be easily trained. Service dogs make a lot of sense for people who suffer from anxiety. If they can help with mental health in general, they can certainly help those with anxiety.

General Benefits of an Emotional Support Dog

How can an emotional support dog help mental health in general? Both physical and mental health are interconnected. In general, if you regularly eat three healthy meals a day, exercise routinely, and get 7-9 hours of sleep at night, then you can expect mental symptoms to be easier to manage.

When it comes to having an emotional support dog, they also bring both physical and mental health benefits. Some of these include:

  • Reduce depression and improve mood
  • Lower symptoms of anxiety
  • Lower cortisol levels, one of the body’s main stress hormones
  • Encourage more positive interactions with other people
  • Lower heart rate and blood pressure

Those with an emotional support dog are more likely to exercise and spend more time outdoors. Spending time outside can increase serotonin levels, vitamin D intake, and provide various ways to relieve stress.

Other general benefits include:

  • Heart attack patients with pets survive longer than those without pets.
  • Those with pets over age 65 make 30 percent fewer doctor’s visits than those without pets.
  • According to one resource, “People with pets have lower blood pressure in stressful situations than those without pets. One study even found that when people with borderline hypertension adopted dogs from a shelter, their blood pressure declined significantly within five months.”

Emotional Support Dog for Anxiety

How can an emotional support dog help for anxiety specifically? As you can see, all the information above can be beneficial to those who suffer from anxiety. However, when it comes particularly to helping those with anxiety, a service dog can:

  • Detect signs of an anxiety attack before it happens
  • Soothe the person during an anxiety attack by giving them a paw or licking their face
  • Fetch medication, water, or comforting items during an anxiety attack
  • Bring someone to help the person in distress
  • Fetch a phone during an anxiety attack
  • Ward off strangers from approaching the person in distress
  • Provide deep pressure therapy to calm the person
  • Remind a person to take their medication at certain times of the day
  • Perform safety checks of rooms or turning the lights on for people with PTSD
  • And more!

Apart from performing specific tasks to help people with anxiety, they also generally provide a calming presence. Simply having a loyal and trustworthy companion by your side is immeasurably valuable. Even though that companion is a canine, that doesn’t undermine the quality relationship one can have. Dogs can still convey love, compassion, and kindness just like anyone else. Yet, all they require is some food, water, shelter, and a little love in return.

Anxiety Service Dog Breeds

When it comes to anxiety service dog breeds, many choices fit. Nevertheless, it’s important to choose a breed that works for you. Here are a few questions to consider:

  • Do you want an active, energetic dog or one that doesn’t need a lot of exercise?
  • Who will serve as the primary caretaker of the dog? Can you train them, feed them regularly, and take them for walks?
  • How big is your home or apartment? Do you have enough room for a large breed? Do you have a backyard for an energetic breed?
  • Do you live with young children? Do you live with someone frail or disabled who would do better with a gentle breed?
  • How much time will the dog spend alone each day? Some breeds can handle time alone better than others.
  • How much shedding can you tolerate? How much drool?
  • Do you want a puppy that needs training and housebreaking or a full-grown dog that’s already trained?

Answering these questions can help you decide which breed will fit best for you, your family, your home, and your lifestyle. Some of the most popular anxiety service dog breeds include golden retriever, Labrador retriever, German shepherd, Great Dane, Pomeranian, and Bernese Mountain dogs. All of these dogs feature vital traits for emotional support dogs for anxiety. Anxiety service dog breeds need to be smart, tidy, friendly, loyal, and have a calm demeanor.

Service Dog Cost and Requirements

Finally, if you’re interested in getting a service dog for anxiety, it’s important to know the requirements for getting one, as well as the cost. To apply for a service dog, you need

  • To have a physical disability or qualified disorder.
  • To at least be present during your dog’s training.
  • A safe and stable home and environment.
  • To be able to give commands and care for your dog.
  • To be able to afford to care for your dog – their food, vet appointments, vaccines, etc.
  • A recommendation letter from your healthcare provider.

With that in mind, getting a service dog isn’t as simple as picking one up from a breeder or pet store. In addition to the cost of purchasing the dog, training can cost anywhere between $20-$40,000. It varies depending on your needs and the breed. Numerous organizations exist to help alleviate service dog cost, or even help people get an emotional support dog at no cost.

Unfortunately, not everyone who suffers from anxiety can qualify for an emotional support dog. But that’s not the end of the story! If you consult your physician, they can help you. You can also reach out to organizations here and here.

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