Dear Doctor, 

It seems to me you have written about dogs and how they help with anxiety. During this COVID-19 pandemic, our dog has made the days much easier for us. I wonder if there is research on this. Thank you.

Dog Parent 

Dear Dog Parent,

There is an abundance of research on the topic. Dogs have been used therapeutically to assist cancer patients. They are reported to ease the emotional impact of chemotherapy.

Dogs have also been used to cope with post-traumatic stress, anxiety, depression and sheer loneliness. There is considerable research on therapeutic dogs helping the elderly, especially in nursing homes and assisted-living facilities, too.

What makes our four-footed friends with wagging tails so helpful? If you have to ask, you probably have never owned a dog.

Dogs are mammals, and so are we. They are emotional creatures and exhibit unconditional love. It is my opinion their mammal brains relate to ours and sense human troubles in our own neurology. They are also positive distractions, and help keep their human parents relating and physically active.

Our cairn-terrier is named Thistle. She is the same breed as Toto in the “Wizard of Oz.” Love is in her being. She senses when she needs to come over for a soulful scratch or pat. COVID-19 would have been much worse without her ministrations.

There have been studies as to which breed is best as a therapeutic companion. Labs have usually won the day. Of the small breeds, Yorkies get the nod. I have not shared these findings with Thistle, who would be put out over being ignored in the studies.

Dr. Larry Larsen is an Andover psychologist. If you would like to ask a question, or respond to one, email him at lllrsn@comcast.net.

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