Sask. researchers praise dogs for healing, therapeutic abilities

Man's best friend may have talents far more impressive than fetching a ball or shaking a paw.

Research collected at addictions and mental health facilities in the Saskatoon Health Region

Therapy dog have been used across the country for a variety of reasons, including airports for travellers. (Stephanie vanKampen/CBC)

Most dog lovers probably won't be surprised, but man's best friend may have talents far more impressive than fetching a ball or shaking a paw.

Researchers in Saskatchewan say regular visits with a therapy dog can improve your mental health and well-being. The team went to three addictions and mental health treatment sites in the Saskatoon Health Region and spent six months at each one.

Therapy dogs have often been praised for their abilities. In this particular study, the words from the adult clients, staff, and observers speak volumes.

According to the researchers, one staff member reported, "Client rolling in grass laughing while dog was licking her, snuggling. Heard the client state, 'I love you. I want to take you home.'"

I could see it on her face the love she felt from [the therapy dog]. She kept on smiling during her entire session.

"The meeting was more than I thought it would be," one client at the Calder Centre said. "Animals are in the moment and live each moment in the present. It was a nice reminder."

"The word love was said many times. With the one-on-one experience the person felt comfort — able to open up," an observer cited in the research project said. "I could see it on her face, the love she felt from [the therapy dog]. She kept on smiling during her entire session."

National Addictions Awareness Week 

The research was collected by Colleen Dell from the University of Saskatchewan, Darlene Chalmers from the University of Regina and James Gillett from McMaster University. It is being released to coincide with National Addictions Awareness Week from Nov. 15-21.

Dell said she was surprised at how consistent the results were from all three centres, whether it was youth, seniors or groups of people.

While she admitted it's not an easy area to research, Dell is confident in the findings.

"The dogs can have an impact on an individual's healing journey in a multitude of ways, from providing comfort through to increasing therapeutic alliances with service providers," Dell said in a news release.

Expect more studies to come

Chalmers said the team plans to expand on this research for a series of other studies.

"There is so much to be learned, and from other species too, such as horses," Chalmers said. "The theme of Addictions Awareness Week this year is 'Addictions Matters.' And it is precisely for this reason that our team has stepped outside the box, so to speak, to research an intervention that can potentially support long-term recovery."

Read more on the team's research here:

Want to hear more?

Colleen Dell will join Saskatoon Morning host Leisha Grebinski on Tuesday, Nov. 17 at 7:10 a.m. CST on CBC Radio One, 94.1 FM in Saskatoon.


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