Here's to the Working Dogs: How Man's Best Friend Can Help with Chronic Pain

Here's to the Working Dogs: How Man's Best Friend Can Help with Chronic Pain

It’s time to offer a little appreciation to the hard-working career dogs of the world. While social media might be in love about the adorable puppy who failed police training for being too friendly, we’re quite content with our resident dog-on-staff, motivational manager Ivan Hoe. Ivan has been with the company since the beginning and knows the ins and outs of it better than almost anyone. He is an excellent greeter, and though he sometimes sleeps on the clock, no one loves their job more than Ivan Hoe loves working at Nanohealth USA. Helping people with chronic pain is one of Ivan Hoe’s passions, and although he prefers to take a behind-the-desk, networking approach, studies show that animal-assisted therapy through the help of a therapy dog can have encouraging results for those living with chronic pain.

First, it’s worth noting that therapy dogs differ from service dogs. Service dogs for patients with chronic pain typically help with the physical aspects of the condition by relieving the patient of tasks that might be difficult or painful. Service dogs can be trained to open doors, to carry things, even to help patients unzip their clothes. Therapy dogs, on the other hand, deal with the psychological aspects of the condition, and are primarily just trained to have a very calm, obedient demeanor that can have a soothing effect on patients. Occasionally, a therapy dog can be a service dog, but typically, they differ. Some patients prefer therapy dogs to service dogs, wanting to push themselves to carry out painful but necessary tasks themselves.

Simply having a good dog doesn’t sound like much of a treatment, but having the emotional support of a therapy dog can make all the difference when it comes to chronic pain. In a study conducted by the National Fibromyalgia & Chronic Pain Association, they brought a dog to a chronic pain waiting area and compared the results from patients in the waiting room with the dog to results from patients in the regular waiting room. Patients were shown to have reduced stress and anxiety, more cheerful moods, and yes, even reduced pain after spending time with the therapy dog. The main reason therapy dogs are so effective is because petting and playing with dogs is shown to increase levels of oxytocin and decrease stress hormones. Since stress can be a prominent exacerbation or even cause of pain, reducing stress will naturally put the body more at ease and lessen the tension of the pain.

Therapy dogs can also be helpful in that they can serve as motivation for chronic pain patients. Doctors frequently recommend exercise, even if it might be painful, to patients with chronic pain, as one of the best ways to help the pained joint is to keep it moving. Dogs, even well-behaved dogs, need exercise, walks, and playtime (so they don’t take all their energy out on the couch cushions).

Patients with therapy dogs have reported that the need to take their dog on multiple walks throughout the day helped them to get into the practice of regular exercise. One patient even said that, by going to dog parks and meeting other dog owners, she was able to make friends during a time in her life when fibromyalgia seemed isolating.

To make your dog an official therapy dog, you first have a therapy dog observer in your area test your dog’s manners and demeanor as well as your handling skills to see if you’re up to the task. Once you both pass the test, you and your pup will have three supervised visits to hospitals and other medical facilities. After that, it’s just a matter of submitting the paperwork and having your dog officially registered as a therapy dog. Even without an official registration, you can just adopt a dog with the right sort of temperament from your local shelter as a more personal help to your chronic pain. Therapy dogs are a wonderful natural resource to treating chronic pain, and make steadfast friends, too.

Note: If you’re more of a cat person, or even a bunny person, that’s okay! Studies show many of the same results for other warm and fuzzy pets, as well. Ivan Hoe, however, through an understandable bias, would not recommend a cat.