Sign In

Think Pawsitive

June 2, 2020

Anxiety and cabin fever can stem from the stay-at-home orders impacting American lives for the past few weeks. But for nearly 85 million U.S. families, their households offer something that can reduce their feelings of angst and isolation. And it doesn’t come from the fridge.

This popular attitude-enhancer offers a sense of connection and can lower everything from stress and heart rate to anxiety and loneliness. The miracle elixir inspires outdoor exercise, boosting physical and mental health and levels of the sun’s mood-lifting vitamin D.Dog therapy increases:

It’s also cute, cuddly and dependent, pushing people out of bed in the morning and providing a sense of self-worth. A pet – especially a dog – can ease the COVID blues.

While Spader’s work with the Warrior Canine Connection (WCC) goes deeper than pandemic angst, organizers agreed that now was the perfect time for sharing her research-backed experiences from training and connecting dogs with military families in need.

Spader and colleagues use an evidence-based model in working with military veterans and service members by matching them with dogs trained to help overcome two major fallouts of combat: Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBI). WCC partners with the Marcus Institute for Brain Health on campus and has sites across the country.

The emotional and cognitive effects of TBI’s make reintroduction into family and civilian life difficult for service members and veterans. Dogs help by alerting to and distracting from the disabling symptoms, whether it’s waking their owners from nightmares or nuzzling them back to the present before they sink into episodes of anxiety, flashbacks and withdrawal.

Powerful human-animal bonds are driven largely by oxytocin, often called the “feel-good” or “love” hormone, Spader said. “Oxytocin is one of the main reasons humans continue to reproduce and why mothers love their infants even seconds after the trauma of the birthing process,” she said.

Studies have found the level of oxytocin exchanged between a dog and a person is comparable to what’s shared between a mom and a baby during breastfeeding, Spader said. Oxytocin also creates the feelings of joy and bliss when couples fall in love, she said.

All animal relationships can have positive effects, but at least one study suggested dogs rule, Spader said, apologizing to the cat lovers of the world. Researchers measured increases in oxytocin in animal and owner, comparing cat owners and dog owners.

“The dogs had a drastic increase in oxytocin compared to the cats,” Spader said.

Oxytocin also inspires a tend-and-defend versus a fight-or-flight response by calming the amygdala, an emotion-regulating part of the brain. “We know especially with our veterans with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, that this is something they are constantly struggling with,” Spader said of the stress-inducing fight-or-flight response.

Spader ended with a couple of ways puppy-less people can reap the “pawsitive” effects, calling for volunteers interested in puppy parenting and puppy sitting. Puppy parents help WCC raise, train and socialize the pups it breeds for the first few years, generally during evenings and weekends. Puppy sitters fill in for short periods as needed.

Or, for a virtual boost from the COVID blues, anyone can check out the WCC puppy-cam, which Spader said has seen a “huge” increase in viewers since social distancing began. The site offers 24/7 real-time views of WCC’s puppies in their first eight weeks. “It will provide you with hours and hours of really cute, cuddly puppies.” But watch out. “It’s addicting.”

Register Your Dog

  • Most Recent News

    Big Dogs Need Owners

    When the shutdown orders took full effect, it became nearly impossible to find a small dog available for adoption as Southlanders sought furry companions. In many Southland shelters, only larger breeds remained available for adoption. Now Los Angeles Animal Service is touting the joys of big dogs while offering discounted adoption fees for larger breeds […]

    Read more

    Service Dog Walkathon

    On Saturday, October 3, hundreds of walkers from across 15 states joined the path to bettering the world for children with autism and their families as part of BluePath Service Dogs’ fourth annual walkathon. The family-friendly fundraiser – this year held virtually – raised more than $120,000 to further BluePath’s mission of providing autism service […]

    Read more

    Service Dog In The Marching Band

    In a year that is anything but normal, the Jones College Maroon Typhoon Marching Band has welcomed its first known service dog member this fall. Laurie, a 3-year-old golden retriever, is baritone saxophone player Sara-Beth McKellar’s service dog. The Vicksburg native was diagnosed with epilepsy as a sophomore in high school after her first seizure. […]

    Read more

    Church Blesses Animals

    St. Mary’s Church of the Immaculate Conception in Port Jervis hosted a special outdoor service last Sunday afternoon to bless the community’s pets, animals and other living creatures. In keeping with current pandemic rules, pet owners wore masks, remained distant, and took part in praying for dogs, cats, turtles, and other pets and animals around […]

    Read more

    Police Welcome New Canine

    After the unexpected passing of longtime Police Service Dog Zeus earlier this week, Kingston Police are welcoming a new member to the Canine Unit. Police Service Dog Bask, also known as K9-8, is a Dutch Shepherd and Belgium Malinois mix, and will be patrolling the streets of Kingston with his handler Constable Jeff Dickson. Bask […]

    Read more

    Dog Park For Travelers

    St. Petersburg is widely recognized as a dog-friendly city, and St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport is making sure its four-legged visitors and their humans feel welcome by rolling out the artificial turf carpet. With the completion of the airport’s parking and roadway project – part of a series of multi-million dollar improvements at the airport over the […]

    Read more