Dogs have played a major role as “man’s best friend” throughout civilization. The contribution of canines to our development cannot be overstated, especially since it breaks socio-economic barriers and touches all of humanity throughout the world. As it turns out, dogs are also hugely helpful in fostering recovery during addiction treatment.
A simple lick from a dog can light up a person’s day; the joyous way a dog greets you can make you feel loved and appreciated. Merely interacting with a dog creates all kinds of “feel-good” chemicals, such as norepinephrine and adrenaline, which reduce stress hormones in the body. Researchers at Washington State University have concluded it likely also releases natural opioids within the brain, aiding in the restoration and normalization of the brain’s pleasure centers.
Dogs were the first animal to be domesticated sometime around 30,000 years ago. In many ways, humans and dogs have evolved together from hunter-gatherers to farming and now industrialization. Nowhere else in nature do two predators consistently work together, let alone share a destiny. Dogs are also fiercely loyal, protecting humans over members of their own species. Then there are all of the “dog saving human” stories constantly in the news, involving people saved from accidents, predators and forces of natures, cut straight from an episode of “Lassie”. It happens all the time. There is an eternal bond between dog and man.
The best thing about dogs is that they are great companions. Even when it takes a patient a while to come around, the dog is forgiving, waiting to shower his owner with love. Several studies have demonstrated that involving dogs in therapy also facilitates greater communication with the therapist, as the patient learns how to trust and open up. A 2009 study by Mississippi State University and Lindsey Wilson College also noted increased self-esteem. Addicts usually struggle with a warped self-image that can be repaired by a dog’s unconditional love.
Many treatment centers use Labradors and Golden Retrievers because they are so calm, loving and physically durable. Durability is important because some patients lack basic empathetic and social skills at the outset. They transform as they go through the program and bond with their dogs. They learn to care for and love a pet that is wholly dependent on them. For patients with allergies or asthma, a Golden Doodle or Labradoodle serves as a great, reasonable alternative.
The process of the therapy at most of these treatment centers involves patients thoroughly caring for and playing with their dogs. It is seamlessly intertwined with traditional therapy. Schedules include taking the dogs for a walk, giving them fresh food, engaging in affectionate play time and even cleaning up the kennel. It’s a subliminal and easy way to teach responsibility.
Canine therapy is particularly helpful for teens and people who have experienced a trauma. When the underlying reason for addiction is a serious trauma, then you really haven’t accomplished anything if you only treat the addiction. Canine therapy breaks down barriers and makes those in recovery feel safe. It helps them to once again engage life in a healthy manner. As for teens, it helps get them out of their awkward shell. Many of them still haven’t figured out how to get comfortable enough to communicate, but that all changes once they start bonding with their dog. What often occurs, is that teen patients come to appreciate the fact that they need to care for themselves first in order to care for a puppy. That is a huge motivator for a teen who falls in love with his or her pet, which is typically the case. The best part of all this is that you also leave therapy with a friend for life, who helps keep you in check.
That’s where aftercare is particularly unique for dog-assisted therapy. All members of the family become stakeholders in the recovery. The biggest problem for an addict arises when he or she gets home, is doing well and everyone lets their guard down. As a new member of the family, your adorable pet is a constant reminder that recovery is not an event, it is for life.
There are numerous treatment centers throughout the US, but two in particular that stand out are The Cottages of the Palm Beaches and Ashwood Recovery at Northpoint. If you are in the unfortunate need of addiction treatment, then canine therapy should be considered as an inventive therapeutic technique to nurture a long-lasting recovery.