Dogs help humans reduce stress

Studies show that interactions with therapy animals can decrease stress in humans.

Playing with or petting an animal can increase levels of the stress-reducing hormone oxytocin and decrease production of the stress hormone cortisol. These hormonal changes can help a nervous child feel more relaxed about reading aloud. Reduced stress can also benefit physical health. In a 2001 study, researchers found that pet-owning patients with high blood pressure could keep their blood pressure lower during times of mental stress than patients without pets.

Another study shows that pet owners may also have increased odds of surviving for at least a year after having a heart attack.

“Both pet ownership and social support are significant predictors of survival, independent of the effects of the other psychosocial factors and physiologic status,” wrote the heart-disease researchers.

And in 2008, a group of Italian researchers documented the successful introduction of a shelter dog to Alzheimer’s patients. Patients were given questionaires, and many responded that animal-assisted activities (the dog as a therapy animal) was beneficial.

It’s not just tutoring companies that introduce kids to dogs. As seen in this video, elementary school students in Arizona can read to dogs and take care of them at school.

“You can always talk to the dog, and the dog’s not going to judge you,” says the school principal.