We all know there are many benefits of being a dog owner besides the comforting companionship that canines offer. In fact, the health benefits of having a dog are well documented – they can lower your stress and blood pressure levels, encourage exercise and improve sociability. However, dog’s ability to help humans doesn’t stop there. Increasingly, dogs are being used to offer an invaluable service to support adults and children with many physical and emotional conditions, helping them achieve greater independence and sense of wellbeing. Here are some of the ways the dogs are proving to be truly man’s best friend.
Service and therapy dogs have been providing vital help and support to those suffering from PTSD, helping them lead more independent and fuller lives and enjoy better mental health.
Support for post-traumatic stress disorder
A well-trained PTSD dog protects their owner in all situations. This can foster a sense of security to those struggling with mental health. For example, these dogs respond to stress indicators such as crying, stomping, or fidgeting and start to soothe their owner by nestling into them.
They also encourage daily routine such as waking up and medication reminders. They are even trained to fetch their owner’s medication in bite proof containers.
Furthermore, dogs who’ve undergone the PALS (Partner Animal Life Skills) Programme are trained to recognise and disrupt common anxieties such as panic attacks or heightened stress arousal where the veteran is unable to relax or function normally in their current surroundings.
Finally these pets are also trained to lead their owner to safely in an emergency, such as a fire alarm going off, that a PTSD sufferer may not notice or may not respond to appropriately on account of their distress.
Find out more here: http://firstaidforpets.net/service-dogs/
Dogs are proving their worth yet again, this time at the frontline of the war against disease. Specially-trained dogs can already sniff out cancer, diabetes sugar changes and early stages of Parkinson’s disease. Scientists in the UK and Gambia are excited to discover that dogs have the ability to sniff out malaria.
Support against disease
Dogs are ‘super-smellers’ and once they had received specialist training to recognise the distinctive aroma of malaria, they were able to identify 7 out of 10 samples from the socks of children infected with the disease.
The dogs are able to sniff out the disease because the malaria parasite specifically changes our smell, making us more attractive to the mosquitoes responsible for spreading the disease.
Due to a dog’s incredible sense of smell, they can detect the odour of volatiles in a dilution of one part per trillion. This is equivalent to one drop of blood in one Olympic sized swimming pool of water.
According to the World Health Organisation, nearly half the world’s population is at risk from malaria.
Little wonder then that scientists are excited by the latest breakthrough using detection dogs – it could be crucial in helping to eradicate this deadly disease.
Guide dogs have long been the eyes of those with visual impairment helping them to navigate journeys and negotiate travel and daily life. Following a successful three-year pilot scheme with those under the age of 16, there is now no lower age limit for owning a guide dogs, so children as well as older people benefit from increased mobility and confidence that owning a guide dog can bring.
Support for sight loss
Deaf people can feel very isolated, cut off from the hearing world and the social interactions that could help them feel more connected and less lonely.
Support for hearing loss
This is when a hearing dog acts as their ‘ears’ and alerts their deaf owner to sounds they can’t hear, such as the doorbell, the telephone, or in cases of emergency – the fire alarm.
Find out more here: https://www.hearingdogs.org.uk
Seizure alert dogs
Seizure alert dogs help people with epilepsy. These dogs are trained to provide a 100% reliable warning up to 50 minutes before the onset of an epileptic seizure. This enables the owner to be more in control of their seizure and gives them time to retreat from any danger and prepare for the seizure in a safe environment. Knowing when a seizure will occur can reduce risk of injury. Being forewarned also allows the person with epilepsy to enjoy tasks such as cooking, ironing or having a bath, which previously could have been hazardous. This leads to an increase in their independence and quality of life.
Find out more here: https://www.supportdogs.org.uk
Community dogs in SEN schools
A trained dog and his specialist handler join the daily life of the school and participate in classroom activities. In doing so they become a trusted part of the school community. Working with staff and trained therapists in the school, the community dogs can help improve the educational, social, emotional development of pupils. These dogs may be involved in therapeutic situations, such as physiotherapy, or providing emotional support for achieving goals, such as learning new skills.
Find out more here: https://www.dogsforgood.org/community-dog/community-dogs-schools/
Assistance dogs for adults and children
These specially trained dogs provide adults and children with disabilities with help doing things they might find challenging, either in the home or when out and about. This support includes: opening and closing doors, putting a wallet on a shop counter to pay, pressing a pedestrian crossing button, dressing and undressing, loading and emptying the washing machine, fetching mobile telephones or dropped articles like keys or a bag. This practical support allows these individuals a much greater independence.
Find out more here: https://www.dogsforgood.org/how-we-help/assistance-dog/assistance-dogs-adults/
Autism Assistance Dogs
– for adults with autism
Trained community dogs work with professional handler to help adults with autism and learning disabilities develop life skills and enjoy fuller more active lives. This could include a range of goals such as: self-care, reducing anxiety, increasing confidence to get out and about, road safety and reducing fear of dogs.
– for children with autism
Using a specially trained dog can enable children with autism and their parents to enjoy a greater sense of independence. A dog also offers a safer environment so the child feels more secure. It works like this: the dog wears a special harness that is connected to both parent and child. The parent instructs the dog, and the child walks beside the dog. This can be invaluable for parents whose child with autism may become overwhelmed or anxious and attempt to run away, especially when they are faced with unfamiliar place or an environment such as a busy shopping area. The comforting presence of a familiar pet can help calm the child and help them to manage their stressful feelings. And if the child stills try to bolt, the assistance dog is taught to automatically sit down to prevent it.
Family Dog Service
Family Dog workshops offer specialist advice for the parents of children with autism who want to choose a family dog. As well as giving help to choose a dog, the service gives support with training ideas. The research speaks for itself. Families working with the Family Dog Service enjoy decreased parental stress, get out together more, and the children with autism have fewer meltdowns – all because of their family pet.
Find out more here: https://www.dogsforgood.org/how-we-help/family-dog/
Dementia Assistance Dogs
A collaboration project between Dogs for Good and Alzheimer Scotland – Dementia Dog – explores how dogs with specialist training can benefit and improve the lives of those with dementia. The project trains and provides dementia assistance dogs with people who are still living at home, where one person has an early stage diagnosis of dementia and lives with a full-time carer. Initial results from the pilot scheme shows this can bring companionship and practical help to the dementia sufferer and their families.
Find out more here: http://dementiadog.org/how-we-help-2/#DogsHome
Dementia community dogs is an intervention programme which aims to help people with dementia in the wider community increase their confidence and reduce their social isolation by goal-orientated visits from a specially trained Dementia Community dog and their handler.
Find out more here: http://dementiadog.org
Children with Acquired Brain Injuries
Pilots are being conducted by Dogs for Good, in collaboration with the Child Brain Injury Trust (CBIT) to explore how dogs could help children with acquired brain injury overcome their difficulties. A staff member from Dogs for Good has been working with a representative from CBIT and the family of the child affected, to plan of sessions which working towards specified goals for the child with acquired brain injury to achieve.
Find out more here: https://www.dogsforgood.org/community-dog/community-dog-new-projects/
Again the charity Dogs For Good have teamed up with Age UK Oxfordshire to trial a Walking and Wellbeing group to encourage older people to engage with the community, take exercise, and socialise.
Carefully vetted and monitored dogs, accompanied by Dogs for Good staff, allow people without dogs to enjoy some hands on pet experiences. The popularity and benefits of these trials will be assessed.
Find out more here: https://www.dogsforgood.org/community-dog/community-dog-new-projects/
Stoke Mandeville Hospital
Finally, a pilot project with Buckinghamshire Healthcare NHS Trust and Dogs for Good will see how specially trained dogs can help patients at the National Spinal Injuries Centre (NSIC) in their recovery. It involves a new treatment practise called Animal Assisted Intervention (AAI) that is fairly new in the UK although it is used in other parts of the world. Carefully devised sessions which include a patient throwing a ball for a dog, tugging a toy with him plus grooming him, all help the patient achieve their rehabilitation goals. This pilot aims to confirm whether patients find the dog to be a motivational factor in their occupational therapy programme, and whether the dogs increase the patients’ sense of wellbeing.
If you are aware of more amazing areas dogs help, that we haven’t covered in this article. Please let us know so we can update and applaud all the wonderful benefits that these superb dogs are able to bring.
First Aid for Pets provides this information for guidance and it is not in any way a substitute for veterinary advice. The author does not accept any liability or responsibility for any inaccuracies or for any mistreatment or misdiagnosis of any person or animal, however caused. It is strongly advised that you attend a practical First Aid for Pets course or take our online course to understand what to do in a medical emergency.
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