For therapy dogs, most days involve plenty of work. These dogs have a job, and one that is quite serious: they are handsomely rewarded with treats, but they must be there to help the humans who need them the most. More and more, therapy dogs—and even other animals, have been used to help humans. They are used to offer comfort after tragedies, and even help with humans who have disabilities. There is plenty of research on the positive effect the dogs have on people, but until recently no one has studied how the work is affecting the dogs who provide the comfort and help. A recently study from the Applied Animal Behavior Science Journal has offered some insight.
The study suggests that if a dog that is properly trained and motivated, they can do quite well in their job without suffering any negative effects. The study observed therapy dogs who were helping children diagnosed with cancer and how that work was affecting the dogs. Scientists were looking at the level of a stress hormone called cortisol in the dog’s saliva. They took samples five times a day to see if that hormone spiked while they were working. The scientists also video recorded the dogs while they were working to see if they could observe any signs of stress in their body language or behavior. The final conclusion was that there really was not an increase in stress in the dogs between them relaxing at home or being out working.
Therapy dogs are those used to help humans with therapeutic learning and support conditions like anxiety or stress and service dogs are trained to help their humans with tasks. The researchers say that dogs used for therapy are typically selected based in their temperament and are typically calm, easygoing dogs which makes them perfect for their job. However, their owners should be on the lookout for signs of stress just in case!