Most dog owners have a special connection with their pets, but people who work with therapy dogs share an especially valuable relationship. Though pet therapy has been shown to benefit people with serious health conditions, few studies have considered what these four-legged heroes thought about their tough jobs — until now.
Fans of Fido can rest easy knowing that therapy dogs in children’s cancer wards are not stressed out by their work, according to a March 2018 study published in Applied Animal Behaviour Science. To the contrary, most of the canines seem to enjoy being furry miracle workers. In the largest study of its kind, researchers said they visited more than 100 patients and 26 therapy dogs in five different hospitals across the United States. The team measured the dogs’ level of cortisol — often known as the “stress” hormone — both at the puppers’ homes and at the hospitals. They also videotaped and analyzed the dogs’ behavior with the patients, looking for visual signs of stress such as whimpering or shaking. The results showed no difference between the doggos’ stress levels at home or at the hospital.
While researchers are (obviously) not able to get absolute confirmation from the pups that they love their jobs, the new study suggests certain activities are quite enjoyable for the tail-wagging helpers. For instance, researchers said the dogs seemed to be happy and friendly when a child talked to them or played with a toy. However, they didn’t respond quite as enthusiastically to an activity in which a child drew a picture of them.
“It’s fair to say that some activities are more fun for the dog,” study leader Amy McCullough said in an interview with National Geographic. “This is good information for handlers — they can lean toward the activities that they think their dog would enjoy.”
It’s worth keeping in mind that not every sweet dog is necessarily meant to work as a therapy dog, especially if the pup in question isn’t visibly enthusiastic about doing so. But those who are have the potential to change people’s lives while having fun in the process. Sounds like a win-win to us if we’ve ever heard one!
Next, watch these adorable dogs’ reactions after their owners call them good boys: