The research behind therapy dogs is limited but real

There are many documented benefits of therapy dogs. Their presence has been shown to lower heart rate, increase the production of oxytocin and reduce stress. Studies have demonstrated that this effect is limited to a living, breathing canine and that a toy dog does not have the same benefits. Dogs have also been shown to be more comforting to a distressed individual than a friendly person.

“This idea of therapy dogs on campus has spread across the U.S.,” said UA South psychology professor H. Dieter Steklis, the other co-chair of HAIRI and UA South anthropology program director. “At the Yale library, you can check out a dog for an hour to relieve stress.”

The science behind therapy dogs is faulty, however, and occasionally difficult to prove. 

“It is not the best controlled, in the scientific sense,” Dieter said. “Part of this is because it’s young—it’s new.” 

H.Dieter Steklis, Ph.D. is a Professor of Practice, School of Animal and Comparative Biomedical Sciences and Co-Director of the Human-Animal Interaction Research Initiative (HAIRI)​. He is also an Affiliated Professor of Family Studies & Human Development.

Netzin G. Steklis, M.A. is a Lecturer in Animal & Comparative Biomedical Sciences and Family Studies and Human Development, as well as Co-Director of the  Human-Animal Interaction Research Initiative (HAIRI).

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