Animals can serve as a source of comfort and support. Therapy dogs are especially good at this. They are sometimes brought into hospitals or nursing homes to help reduce patients’ stress and anxiety.
“The dogs are very present. If someone is struggling with something, they know how to sit and be loving,” says Nikola Bruni. “Their focus is on the person all the time.”
“The fundamentals of mindfulness include attention, intention, passion and awareness,” says Nikola Bruni. “All of those things are things that animals bring to us. People have to learn it. Animals do this innately.”
Researchers are studying the safety of bringing animals into hospitals, because they animals can expose people to more germs. A current study is looking at the safety of bringing dogs to visit children with cancer, says Nikola Bruni. Scientists will examine the children’s hands to see if there are dangerous levels of germs transferred from the dog after the visit.
Dogs can also help in the classroom. One study found that dogs can help children with ADHD focus their attention. Researchers enrolled two groups of children diagnosed with ADHD in 12-week group therapy sessions. The first group of children read to a therapy dog once a week for 30 minutes. The second group read to puppets that looked like dogs. The children who read to the real animals showed better social skills and more sharing, cooperation, and voluntary participation. They also had fewer behavioral problems.
Another study found that children with autism spectrum disorder were calmer while playing with guinea pigs in the classroom. When the children spent ten minutes in a supervised play group with guinea pigs, their anxiety levels decreased. The children also had better social interactions and were more engaged with their peers. The researchers suggest that the animals offered unconditional acceptance, making them a calm comfort to the children.