Canine Therapy What Is It?

Canine-assisted therapy uses dogs to promote health and healing. Like other animals, dogs are accepting, comforting and non-judgmental, making them ideal therapy companions. Therapy dogs undergo extensive training before working with patients.

Since the mid-1970s when canine therapy was introduced in clinical settings, this treatment has been offered in therapeutic boarding schools, special needs programs, hospitals, nursing homes, prisons and mental health facilities. It is effective for children, adolescents and adults.

A variety of people can benefit from canine therapy, including those with autism, learning disabilities, behavioral problems and substance abuse. It is particularly beneficial when the patient is resistant to treatment or struggles to communicate verbally. Because of its hands-on approach, canine therapy is also useful for children and teens that have difficulty focusing.

In canine therapy, patients may:

  • Learn to give a dog commands
  • Walk and play with a dog
  • Pet and care for a dog

Following these tasks, the therapist processes the experience with the patient, gaining insights into their feelings about the experience as well as the way the lessons learned can apply to other situations.


Research suggests that interacting with and caring for a dog has many therapeutic benefits, including:

  • Decreased stress
  • Increased physical activity
  • Relief from anxiety and depression
  • Increased focus and attention through hands-on interaction
  • Improved communication and social skills
  • Learning the appropriate way to treat themselves and others
  • Unconditional love, affection and nurturing
  • Increased self-esteem
  • Reduced blood pressure
  • Elevated mood
  • Reduced loneliness and enhanced sense of purpose
  • Setting and respecting boundaries
  • Motivation to stay in treatment and participate fully in therapy

Because dogs often mirror the feelings of the patient, canine therapy can help teach people to manage their emotions. The calmer the patient is, the more agreeable the dog becomes.

Canine therapy can be immensely healing. Children and teens respond particularly well to canine therapy, developing trust and strong bonds with the animals. Many find it easier to open up and talk when the focus is on the dog. The therapist working with the patient can gain valuable insights by observing the interactions between patients and their canine companions.


Canine therapy is used to treat a variety of ailments, including:

  • Emotional and Behavioral Disorders
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Substance Abuse
  • Attachment Issues
  • Trauma, Grief or Loss
  • Alzheimer’s Disease
  • Autism
  • Dementia