From offering comfort in times of distress to aiding individuals with disabilities in their daily tasks, animals can play a powerful role in treatment plans.

Although various types of animals undergo training to assist individuals with disabilities, dogs are the most common choice for service and emotional support animals, per Disabled American Veterans.

How are dogs used for emotional support?

Studies show even brief interactions with dogs or other animals reduce cortisol and help individuals struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder or recovering from trauma, per The New York Times.

Nancy Gee, who oversees the Center for Human-Animal Interaction at Virginia Commonwealth University, told The New York Times, “Dogs have become incredibly adept at socializing with humans, so they’re sensitive to our emotional state.”

According to the ADA National Network, an emotional support dog can:

  • Provide companionship.
  • Lessen loneliness.
  • Help with depression.
  • Help with anxiety.
  • Reduce some phobias.

Real-life examples of dogs supporting emotional health

Therapy dogs helping victims of shootings

Three third-graders and three staff members were killed during a shooting at the Covenant School in Nashville last year. As part of their healing process, many families in the school community have adopted dogs, according to The New York Times.

Rachel Bolton, a mother of kids who were at the school during the shooting, told The New York Times that though she’s not a dog person, their new dog “has healed this family.”

In another example, 11 golden retrievers from the Lutheran Church Charities’ K-9 Comfort Dogs organization came to Orlando after 50 people were killed and another 53 were wounded in the Pulse nightclub shooting, according to The Huffington Post.

Tim Hetzner, president of Lutheran Church Charities, told HuffPost, “Dogs can help. They’re like a furry counsel. They’re not judgmental and they’re good listeners, which is good because talking is an important part of healing process. It allows people to process what happened.”

The group’s dogs were also on the scene for the aftermath of the Sandy Hook shooting and Boston marathon bombing, per HuffPost.

Airport therapy dogs

According to The Washington Post, airport therapy dogs help passengers with nerves and anxiety before flights.

Tara Hoover, who heads the Pittsburgh International Airport therapy dog program PIT PAWS (Pups Alleviating Worry and Stress), told The Washington Post, “My very first day — I’ll never forget it — we sat with a passenger in tears. She was so scared and nervous. … I sat with her for a while and she just sat there and was petting (a dog) just talking, trying to pass the time.”

Therapy dogs helping hospital patients

In Fishers, Indiana, the Ascension St. Vincent hospital recently welcomed therapy dogs. Staff members believed they saw an improvement in patients’ blood pressure, heart rate and endorphin production as a result, according to WRTV Indianapolis.

Sandy Manwaring, a clinical supervisor at the hospital told WRTV Indianapolis, “You could see the joy and comfort they bring to our patients.”

Therapy dogs helping veterans

K9s For Warriors, a group working to “prevent and end veteran suicide with service dogs trained to support individuals with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), traumatic brain injury or military sexual trauma,” has paired 1,000 veterans with service dogs throughout the U.S, per DVM 360.

Charlie, a Navy veteran, told DVM 360, “If it wasn’t for Slider (my dog), I wouldn’t be here today. He not only helped me, but he helped my family, he helped me get my life back.”

After the loss of Slider, Charlie noticed himself spiraling. He contacted K9s For Warriors and was paired with another service dog, Lady Cameo. She continues to help Charlie and his family, according to DVM 360.

How do dogs improve physical health?

Per Purdue University, service dogs can help individuals with mobility and alert them to an approaching medical issue.

According to ADA.gov, service dogs can provide the following types of support:

  • Retrieving objects, such as medications.
  • Performing a task, such as opening and closing doors.
  • Protecting individuals from a fall.
  • Detecting gluten.
  • Alerting individuals of an upcoming medical emergency, such as a seizure.

Service dogs also provide emotional support to their owners, such as comfort during a medical emergency. However, to qualify as a service animal, they must perform specific tasks to help individuals with disabilities, per Chewy.

Real-life examples of service dogs

Service dogs detecting medical emergencies

Medical Detection Dogs, a charity in the U.K., trains dogs to find medical conditions from traces of odor, according to The Mirror.

Juanita, who suffers from asthma and anaphylactic allergies, approached the charity to get her dog Toffee training to become a medical alert assistance dog.

“He has totally transformed my life. He will not be diverted if he wants to alert me and if I’m not capable of responding he will bark and try to alert others until someone is made aware. He can even bring me my phone, or medication. He is my hero,” Juanita told Mirror.

Similarly, ABC News reported on a service dog that alerted Shannon Boggs and her husband late one night that something was wrong with their daughter, a 9-year-old who has Type 1 diabetes.

The couple checked their daughter’s blood sugar and found that it was at a dangerous level. As it turned out, the daughter’s glucose monitor, since it was new, was still calibrating, meaning the glucose levels were not being accurately checked. Without Spy, the Boggs’ daughter could have been in a more serious condition, according to ABC News.

“The nose ALWAYS knows! Even when it’s sleeping. This dog is such a blessing to our family! We truly can’t be more thankful,” Boggs shared on Instagram about the incident, according to ABC News.

Service dogs detecting allergies

Kendra Williams, from San Diego, California, suffers from Celiac disease. After experiencing numerous episodes of illness due to gluten consumption, she made the decision to acquire a gluten-detection dog, which she named Suki, per Newsweek.

“Suki eliminates the fear that something I am eating may make me sick. With Suki, I can enjoy a meal at a restaurant without fear that I may be out of commission for a week or longer,” Williams told Newsweek.

Hayden Kreikemeier also has a severe allergy. To help him avoid peanuts, he got a Labrador retriever, Trixie, who sniffs out 12 different kinds of nuts at school, home or while out with friends, according to Good Morning America.

Kelly Kreikemeier, Hayden’s mom, told Good Morning America, “You can’t put a price on (Trixie) for what she’s done for my family.”

Service dogs helping individuals with disabilities

Sally Alexander is blind and has hearing loss. While it is possible for her to go on errands if she has her hearing aids and walking cane, it has become difficult due to the loud noises of traffic, sirens and other sounds, per Public Source.

Alexander has had a number of guide dogs over the years to help her feel comfortable with daily tasks and heading outside. Her current dog’s name is Ozzy, according to Public Source.

“To walk outside independently again, to pull my weight running errands. ... To have the double-checking help of his intelligent disobedience, to move exhilaratingly along stretches of sidewalk. To bask in his mischief and play, and to have the adoration of a warm, loving beast — well, to me, all these qualities make a new guide not just worthwhile, but essential,” Alexander told Public Source.