How Service Dogs Assist People with Mental Health Disorders

Written by guest blogger Jessica Brody, OurBestFriends.pet

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People who suffer from mental disorders are increasingly finding comfort and relief in being paired with psychiatric service dogs. Already, the service is ranked the fourth common use of trained dog companionship in America, after helping the visually-impaired, the immobile, and the deaf, a University of California, Davis, study found.

The practice is gaining more traction in treatment centers, and has been notably spreading as more sufferers look for canine support to help them get through daily life, the study concluded. The loyal animals are helping recovering addicts, autistic children, seizure-prone individuals and sufferers of post-traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD) overcome negative episodes while providing a constant loving and affectionate presence.

The companion animals assist their handlers in multiple ways. They can be trained to remind their handlers when to take medication, to comfortingly lie down on a hyperventilating person, and to monitor the safety of an autistic child. They also help ground the mentally ill who feel anxious out in public.

Here are a few reasons explaining how the trained companion animals assist their owners:

Encourage More Exercise

Dogs need constant exercise and contact with the outdoors. This fact of canine care automatically encourages their handlers to embrace long walks and outdoor exercise, which boosts endorphins in the brain. As a result, anxiety and depression are alleviated as they become fitter in body.

Enhance Social Interaction

By forcing the mentally ill person to leave her home more, where she is more likely to feel lonely and depressed if holed up too much inside, the companion animal breaks unhealthy behavioral patterns. Because people love petting and greeting dogs, the service animal, by serving as a center of attention, continually encourages her handler to socially interact with people who approach the pair.

They Make Outings in Public More Feasible

Handlers trust their service dogs will know what to do in public should an episode arise. When such meltdowns happen, the dog comforts the afflicted or guides the latter to the nearest exit. This feeling of permanent security encourages the handler to attend large group gatherings, in the knowledge that such situations won’t get out of hand because of the service animal.

They Help with Treatment Therapy

People attending treatment therapy sessions find it hard to discuss painful topics of the past and present. With a service dog present, however, to soothe and comfort them physically and emotionally, the patients are more likely to open up and discuss their trauma, paving the way for success in treatment.

They Forge Deep Bonds

For people who are sensitive to the social stigma of being labelled “mentally ill,” building a human-canine relationship that is founded on mutual loyalty and unconditional love is incredibly healing. The handler also benefits from learning to be responsible and disciplined in caring for the animal. Keeping to a set walking and feeding routine, for example, empowers the handler and grounds her by encouraging her to follow an organized day-to-day schedule.

From the very moment of its adoption, the owner comes up with creative ways to bond with her animal and make her feel comfortable in the new home, from setting aside a specialized corner in the home for the animal, to buying her toys, a dog bed, and treats, to constantly playing with the companion animal. Constant vocalized communication with the service dog also deepens the friendship bond, and calms the owner down during difficult moments.

The Takeaway

The owner of the psychiatric service animal reaps a load of benefits from the canine’s presence. Altogether, the dog promotes self-confidence, self-esteem, enhanced social interaction, greater independence and a sense of safety. It is common to have psychiatric patients credit their animal companion with a greater healing, and to being an invaluable source of support when stigmas against their mental disorders remain alive and well in society.

Tips For Fun, Safe Summer Travel With Your Dog

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By Kaitlyn Manktelow @Kurgo, the dog travel experts

With the beautiful weather outside, it seems almost a crime for you and your favorite canine to stay inside, instead of enjoying the sunshine together. While it seems pretty easy to just pack up and hit the road with your furry friend, there are some hidden dangers to traveling with a dog that you may not be aware of. Here are some safety tips to ensure both parties have a safe and fun time!

Keep Arms & Legs & Paws Inside at All Times

We know your dog loves to stick his head out the window. While it may seem like an innocent and ‘cute’ thing to allow your pooch to do, it is actually incredibly unsafe.

As human beings, we have a windshield to protect our eyes from different traveling dangers. Hanging with their heads out the window, leaves our four-legged friend’s eyes vulnerable to being hit by foreign objects like rocks, twigs and other forms of debris. The cornea of a dog’s eye is very sensitive and hard to repair if damaged. It also exposes their lungs to breathing in toxic fumes which can cause pneumonia.

Even worse, an unrestrained dog with its head out the window can jump out of a moving car. If a car swerves or is involved with a collision, your pup can be thrown out the window. The severity of these injuries can be anywhere from road rash, to broken bones to even fatal injuries.

Everyone Two-legged and Four, Should Be Buckled Up

Most of us put on a seatbelt in the car without giving it a second thought. We make sure that all human passengers are strapped in, but what about our animal family members?

In addition to being injured in a crash, a loose pet can also be a possible hazard for human passengers in an accident. An unrestrained 10-pound dog in a crash at 50 mph will exert roughly 500 pounds of force on anything it hits, while an unrestrained 80-pound dog in a crash at only 30 mph will exert about 2400 pounds of force.

A loose dog can also limit a driver’s ability to steer, use the gas and brakes as well as create blind spots.

One car safety solution is to use a dog seat belt with a crash-tested dog car harness. Now your dog is safely buckled up just like you.

Click it or ticket – did you know there are laws being put into place in the United States and across the globe making it illegal to drive with a loose pet?

Bring A ‘Pet-Friendly’ Travel Kit

When humans travel, we have our go-to items like a water bottle, favorite snack or comfy sweatpants. Make your pet more comfortable on the trip by bringing them creature comforts too. Hydration is important in the summer, so be sure to throw in water for your dog and a portable dog travel bowl. Some dogs have anxiety so giving them something that smells like home such as a favorite toy or blanket can ease their fears. And of course snacks. Treats can be an easy way to coax a reluctant dog back in the car after a rest stop break.

Never, Ever Leave Your Pup Alone in the Car

A dog should never be left in an unattended car, no matter the season. However, in summer heat, it is even more important considering that on an 85 degree day, car temperatures can reach up to 120 degrees within 10 minutes even with the windows open!

For more tips, check out this Pet Travel Safety Tips Video.

About Kaitlyn Manktelow – Kaitlyn is a writer and videographer for Kurgo, a dog travel and outdoor products company. She enjoys filming, traveling, and singing way too loud with her rescue dog Samuel Jackson.

Tips for Bonding with a New Pet for First-Time Owners

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Photo Credit: Pixabay.com

One of the main reasons we, as humans, decide to adopt a new pet is so that we can have a new companion in our lives. We don’t just want to open up a dog or cat hotel – we want an intimate bond with our pets. For first-time pet owners, knowing how to create a strong bond can be difficult. Sometimes it comes easy, and sometimes it’s not so simple. Here are some tips to ensure you and your new pet bond.

Start training your dog immediately

Whether you’re adopting an older dog or getting a puppy, it’s vital that you begin to train them as soon as they step foot into their new home. Dogs prefer structure and purpose, and an untrained dog is not just a pain – it’s an unhappy dog. When your dog is properly trained, you can spend more time enjoying each other’s company and less time trying to correct/discipline bad behaviors.

“Well-trained dogs are allowed greater freedom. If they come when called, they get to spend more time off leash. If they don’t go for the food on the table, they can stay nearby during meals. Training also reduces frustration because when you ask your dog to do something he’s been taught to do, he knows what you want,” says TheBark.com.

Always remain calm

Dogs and cats pick up on your energy, and if you are angry, nervous, or stressed out around them, they’re going to know it. It’s important to always be calm when dealing with your new pet – even if they’ve just eaten through your favorite pair of jeans or broken your grandma’s favorite vase.

The quickest ways to damage the bond between you and your pet is to be aggressive – physically or emotionally. And this sort of damage is very hard to reverse. Dogs have a hard time recovering from fear.

Be generous with the praise

“Praising your dog is a super easy way to let him know that you appreciate his good behavior, which will encourage him to continue making the right decisions. There are endless daily opportunities to give your dog positive feedback,” says PetMD.

You don’t have to give your dog treats every time they do anything good, a nice pat on the head, belly rub, and “atta boy” will do just fine. But it’s important that you always acknowledge good behavior, instead of just reacting to bad behavior. Physical contact is one of the best ways to bond with your new pet.

Spend lots of time with them

This may sound like a no brainer, but with cats and dogs alike, the most important way to develop a strong bond is to spend a lot of time together. Some people mistakenly think that pets are mostly solitary creatures who can spend a lot of time alone, and just a few interactions a day is enough to make them happy. If you want a strong bond, however, you have to do things together. If you work long days or your job requires you to be gone during the night or on lengthy business trips, you may need to make considerations for your pet to get some attention and exercise. You can seek out a local dog walking service, for instance. Or you can have a friend come over and play with your new pet when you’re not around.

The main ways in which you can create a stronger bond with your new pet are to give it plenty of attention, train it to the best of your ability, always stay calm and never be mean or aggressive, and be overly generous with the praise. If you start with those steps, you’ll be well on your way to forming a rewarding friendship with your new animal pal.

 

 

KHS Blog Authors

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