I’m not great at choosing a favorite - I have lots of favorites in almost every category. My absolute favorite is when I can combine favorites together. Like chocolate and peanut butter. Or m&m's on popcorn while watching a movie. Reading with hot chocolate by a campfire. Both working from home and helping people with online therapy are big favorites of mine. I also love cuddles and my dog, Neo, a one-year-old cockapoo. As it turns out, the best therapy dogs are beloved companions, so combining my favorites of home and online therapy with cuddles and Neo sounds perfect to me!
Neo is lying beside me right now, leaning his head against my knee. I’m typing in tiny bursts because I keep reaching out to pet him - he’s irresistible. Most people love seeing a dog, and looking into a dog’s eyes helps us relax. Centuries of getting closer to our four-legged friends have led to some wonderful connections. Dogs have an uncanny ability of calming people down: they provide social engagement, stimulate interactions, and bring people into the present moment - the here and now (1). Bonding with dogs led to the realization there were therapeutic benefits to having calming creatures around when we are distressed. Building on this animal-human bond, dogs around the world have been trained to to help people heal from their physical and mental health concerns.
Animal-assisted therapy has been around for several decades and has many physical and mental benefits including lowering blood pressure, slowing breathing, diminishing pain, increasing relaxation, increasing motivation, stimulating the release of good mood hormones, lowering anxiety, and helping people regulate (2). Therapy animals can be a calm, secure presence in your healing process. Canine-assisted therapy can provide a happy distraction, allowing your nervous system to settle down. Universities across North America have made dog therapy during exam season a regular event. Research has shown brief moments with dogs have lifted the mood and lowered the stress of participating students (3).
Going to therapy is hard enough, what if we could make it a little easier? Animal-assisted therapy works virtually too! Having a dog on the screen allows you to interact without worries of allergies, dog hair, bites, or scratches. A dog can help you feel more at ease and ready to interact. Talking about pets is also a great way to bond with your therapist. It’s common to feel anxiety when being vulnerable about your pain and struggles. If you are having a hard time talking to a therapist directly, you can direct your words towards the dog! When you have a calm, affectionate dog to focus on through the screen, it may ease the tension and invite a more comfortable conversation. Animals naturally lift our spirits - which means moments of welcome distraction after a difficult or emotional experience. Having your own pet in the room where you meet for online therapy might also be helpful. Often pets are attuned to their owner’s emotional state and will come nearby or show more affection when their person is upset.
Neo is still young and training, but he can grow into a fine therapy dog. He likes to come stand at the arm of my chair or sit beside me on the chair - I finally have a chair big enough to fit both of us! By including Neo in our sessions, it can create a more relaxed atmosphere and help you feel safer as you settle into a vulnerable situation. Having a live video interaction with a puppy can help you feel more connected, lower your stress, and keep you grounded with his presence.
Cockapoos are naturally social dogs that thrive from human interactions. They prefer to be by a human’s side and are known to be intelligent. Cockapoos are often used as therapy dogs because of their affectionate and happy tendencies. We usually see this breed of dog visiting hospitals, nursing homes, and therapy room (4).
Working with Neo will not only be a comfort to you, but to him as well! His nature is to be inquisitive and attentive, and listening to your voice will be a soothing experience for him. Cockapoos thrive on new stimulation, and they love discovering new sounds and voices. While you are enjoying the presence of his furry face, remember he likes being there as well! Neo loves to be touched and talked to. I am working to be a loving partner with my dog - we both serve each other and together help others. The greater my relationship with Neo, the better team we will be.
1. Skerrett, P. J. (2015, May 6). Pets can help their humans create friendships, find social support. Harvard Health. Retrieved June 15, 2022, from https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/pets-can-help-their-humans-create-friendships-find-social-support-201505067981
2. Gawlinski, A., & Steers, N. (n.d.). Animal-Assisted Therapy Research. UCLA People-Animal Connection. Retrieved June 15, 2022, from https://www.uclahealth.org/pac/animal-assisted-therapy
3. Affordable Colleges. (2022, June 9). How to get involved in college animal therapy. Affordable Colleges Online. Retrieved June 22, 2022, from https://www.affordablecollegesonline.org/college-resource-center/animal-assisted-therapy-on-college-campuses
4. DogAppy. (2020, February 27). Interesting facts about the cockapoo dog breed. DogAppy. Retrieved June 22, 2022, from https://dogappy.com/interesting-facts-about-cockapoo-dog-breed