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Why Canine Companions Are Good for Our Health

Finding comfort and therapy close to home

Shopping at the local drugstore this week, I smiled as a woman came in with her little gray dog, a miniature schnauzer, wagging his tail and trotting beside her on his leash. “He loves shopping,” she said. “I’m retired. I never thought I’d have a dog. But he is such a joy.” She ’d found him abandoned at a busy intersection in South San Jose. He was dirty, skinny, traumatized, and cowered when people reached down to pet him. “And now look at him,” she said as he looked up at me, wagging his tail. “Do you know all it took for him to recover?--Love.”

Diane Dreher
Source: Diane Dreher

The healing power of unconditional love. With all the stress and trauma in the world today, perhaps that’s one prescription we could all use. Studies have shown that canine companions can reduce heart rate, blood pressure, and anxiety (Krause-Parello & Kolassa, 2016). Known as animal-assisted therapy (AAT) or pet-facilitated therapy (PFT), the use of animals to help relieve human suffering is widely practiced with therapy dogs to help relieve children’s anxiety in hospitals and even can help improve their reading skills, as they practice reading out loud to their canine companions (Jalongo, Astorino, & Bomboy, 2004). Therapy dogs or pets can help relieve loneliness and depression in older adults, offering companionship and unconditional love (Krause-Parello & Kolassa, 2016). Emotional support dogs help people with anxiety, depression, and panic attacks, and service dogs assist people with mobility and visual challenges as well as helping many veterans with PTSD (US Therapy Dog Registry).

Canine therapy comes in many forms. One of my friends, a clinical psychologist, is training her new puppy to be a therapy dog. Another friend, recently retired, volunteers at a local animal shelter, walking dogs to socialize them so they can find new homes, benefiting himself in the process. And at the end of the day, no matter what has happened at work, my little dog, Ginny, is always glad to see me.


Jalongo,, M. R., Astorino,T., & Bomboy, N. (2004).Canine Visitors: The Influence of Therapy Dogs on Young Children’s Learning and Well-Being in Classrooms and Hospitals. Early Childhood Education Journal, 32, 9-16.

Cheryl A. Krause-Parello, C. A., & Kolassa, J. (2016)
Pet Therapy: Enhancing Social and Cardiovascular Wellness in Community Dwelling Older Adults. (2016). Journal of Community Health Nursing, 33, 1-10.

For more about therapy, emotional support, and service dogs, see


Diane Dreher is a best-selling author, positive psychology coach, and professor at Santa Clara University. Her latest book is Your Personal Renaissance: 12 Steps to Finding Your Life’s True Calling.Visit her web sites at and

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