Guest Blogger

Therapy dog offers stress relief at work

By Christine Junge and Ann MacDonald

Harvard Medical School’s newest therapist uses some unorthodox methods to help his clients ease stress—squeaky toys, a stuffed monkey, even tasty treats. Meet Cooper, a 4-year-old Shih-Tzu who recently joined Harvard Medical School’s Countway Library as a registered therapy dog.

Cooper arrives at the Countway every Tuesday and Thursday wearing his signature scarf—the one with paw prints trailing across a Harvard crimson background. No slouch, he puts in a full day of work behind the reference desk. Walk past the shelves packed with books on your right, push open the safety gate, and you enter Cooper’s office, furnished with a comfortable couch and chair, a water bowl, and the tools of his trade.

Want to play and blow off some steam? He’s ready to rumble. Need a good cry? He snuggles close. Just want to sit quietly and not talk? No problem. Game of tug? Cooper fetches his stuffed monkey with legs made of rope.

Before becoming a therapy dog, Cooper underwent training with Caring Canines—where he works when he’s not at Harvard—but you might say he was born to the job. “Ever since he was young, we realized that Cooper has a very calm demeanor and he is sensitive to people’s emotions,” says Dr. Loise Francisco, who adopted Cooper along with her husband, Dr. Paul Anderson. Both are researchers at Harvard Medical School.

There is plenty of research to show that this isn’t just another shaggy dog tale. Studies going back to the early 1980s support the idea that dogs—and other pets—have enormous health benefits for people. Pets have been shown to lower blood pressure, improve recovery from heart disease, and even reduce rates of asthma and allergy in children who grow up with a Fido or a Frisky in the house. Pets also improve people’s psychological well-being and self-esteem.

Few studies have addressed pets in the workplace, but our less-than-scientific survey in the Countway lobby on days that Cooper is working confirms fewer complaints and a lot more smiles. “Just this morning, we had someone come by and say, ‘I don’t know what it is, but he just makes me happy,’” reports librarian Wendy Brown.

As Dr. Francisco explains in the video that accompanies this post, Cooper is on duty at Countway to help students, staff, and faculty members who need a little mid-day stress relief. Harvard employees can spend up to 30 minutes at a time with Cooper by showing their ID at the reference desk. Library visitors check Cooper out, the same way that they’d check a book out—except that he stays in his safe area at all times. Cooper even has an official entry in the Countway catalogue, where he is categorized as an antidepressive agent, an anti-anxiety agent, and animal assisted therapy.

You don’t have to be at Harvard to get to know Cooper, though. You can also follow his blog.

Yale Law School first came up with the idea of a library-based therapy dog. Harvard Law School countered soon with a tongue-in-cheek announcement of a therapy “liger” (a combination lion and tiger). But we like to think the third one—Cooper—is the charm.

Cooper, Harvard Medical School’s Therapy Dog

Christine Junge and Ann MacDonald are editors at Harvard Health Publications and definite Cooper fans.

Comments:

  1. Michael

    I believe that watching some pets being funny will also help people relieve stress.

  2. Randy

    I totally 100% believe that having a pet,(could be a dog, cat, mouse, whatever..), around can greatly help with stress. Dogs also help those suffering from depression.

  3. Cassie Miller

    This post was really amazing and I agree that dogs can give a relief for a person if stress. I think its a nice way to overcome a stress. Playing with your pets and even talking with them can made you forget about work and things that can made you think. Sometimes stress can lead you into depression and its not good. Do you know that a lot of teens and students are dealing with this problem that can lead them into things that can harm themselves.

  4. Daniel Stevens

    i agree with this comment
    Dogs are a wonderful help to patients

    Nice video

    • Jake

      I agree with Daniel, dogs are very good for therapy and would add that owning a dog or taking care of a dog can increase your life span. Due to the fact you have take them for walks and play with them, causing you to become more active.

  5. Ty Brown

    I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen the value of service dogs with all ages of people. It’s amazing the love that dogs have for their people and what a service dog means to each individual.

  6. Anonymous

    Thank You very much for an amazing article about an antidepressive agent, an anti-anxiety agent, and animal assisted therapy I agree with because animals are so loving and affectionate to people.

  7. dewa perkasa

    nice info

  8. Anonymous

    At first thanks for this post. It is nice dog.

  9. Zelma

    pets are a wonderful company if your alone specially dogs. they seem to understand you. pets would give relieve from stress just by playing with them.

  10. sbo

    formation as well ทางเข้า sboas healthy dialog about the topics covered. We reserve the right to delete comments for any reas

  11. Jean Pierre

    As a retired medic I have seen quite a few instances during my career where pets have been a great source of comfort to their owners in providing an unquestioning force of affection – just when it was needed the most.

    I know your article concentrates on dogs but I should mention that I have found cats to be even more calming in providing a sense of peace and tranquillity.

    I defy anyone to remain stressed when you have a softly purring bundle of fluff snoozing in you lap or be unable to laugh at the kittenish antics of young (and not so young) cats at play.

    I have to declare an obvious bias here as I’ve been home rearing Russian blues for some time. Whenever I feel in need of a calming influence – I pick up a cat – not a bottle of pills. Their totally natural and no side effects. (just don’t wear black)

    I can’t say I’d be to keen on booking them out by the half hour. But I don’t suppose any of them would be upset by some extra cuddles either.

  12. Hank

    I was having a conversation the other day about the benefits of service dogs. The person I was speaking to mentioned they couldn’t believe how well this service dog was behaving in a busy crowed with all the distraction.

    You see, her dog didn’t listen to any commands! I tried to teller that her beagle didn’t need to be professionally trained to be well behaved members of her family. It only takes a little time and effort to have a dog that is just as trained as a service dog.

    I sent her to a beagle training web site to give her some advice. We will see the next time our paths cross if she took the initiative to help her beagle be better trained.

  13. Andrew

    I recently listened to an interview on the radio about dogs and how they can be used to increase children’s confidence with reading. They would read out loud in front of the dog, this would create a relaxed and non-judgmental environment. One child who was very shy came out of himself because he was able to read with out any kind of anxiety.

  14. Andrew

    I don’t have a dog but i have two cats. I think pets in general kinda help release stress and have a good calming effect on people.

  15. Guy Toohey

    My sister has spent the last couple of years fighting cancer.
    Due to changing her consultant, she now receives treatment at a different hospital. This hospital runs a service called “Therapet”, which offers patients the chance to spend time with specially trained dogs. After speaking to one of the doctors I found out that the service is swamped, due to the number of patients that use it. Personally, I think that this is wonderful scheme and can’t thank our canine friends enough. The joys can be seen in all their glory every day at this hospital, as people and dogs become one.

  16. Arindam

    Not just dogs, there are therapy cats too! My brother and his wife have one, called Simba Meow. Simba used to be a therapy cat in a hospital run by an NGO in Mumbai, India. He became jobless when his keeper passed away (or perhaps he left, I don’t quite remember). And that’s when he found his new home in our family.

  17. Service dog

    At first thanks for this post. This blog site is very beautiful. And i love my dog very much. Here have many thing for dog. http://www.servicesdogs.org

  18. Andy

    What a cute little Shih-Tzu.
    I totally 100% believe that having a pet,(could be a dog, cat, mouse, whatever..), around can greatly help with stress.

    I have worked with the elderly and see how sometimes they look so alone even when you are with them. I think an animal can somehow get through to unhappy or lonely people a lot better than we can…and that is without speaking!

    I think the statistics are correct. A pet can help lower your blood pressure, can make you feel loved and can put a smile on your face.

  19. Ana B.

    I have first hand experience with this. I was an activity director for Seniors in England who suffered from Alzheimer’s or dementia and I often brought in my dogs for them to interact with. It was amazing to see the transformation. Dog or pet therapy is amazing especially for the elderly.

  20. Cindi

    If anyone knows or has any literature on how a therapy dog would be beneficial to students with special needs attending martial arts, I would really appreciate any information. Please email me at stuffedshrimp2@aol.com

  21. Paul

    I have experienced this myself so I really enjoyed your article, thanks.

  22. Lisa

    wow, this is amazing; although I am not surprised. Everyday there are more and more stories about pets, dogs, cats and animals in general coming to the rescue of humans.
    I love that you posted about Therapy Dogs, what a great article! Thanks.

  23. Rob T

    It’s absolutely amazing the effect of dogs on anyone! I have an ADHD kid and as soon as our 2 dogs enter the room – his focus changes. It’s not necessarily that he’s paying attention to Sasha and Taylor, just that they have that calming effect. [URL removed by moderator] We actually have the dogs at our martial arts school and the kids LOVE them!

  24. Terrah

    As a dog trainer for many years mainly in the drug detection field I know how great dogs can be. Both in the defense of our country as well as the loyality and love they can bring those who are less fortunate. Everyday I go to work I am in awe how wonderful these dogs can be and am very interested in learning more about the compassion and work that is done with hospitals and in homes. Great info and along with some great comments.

    Thanks so Much! Terrah

  25. Anonymous

    Even i don’t feel like treating my labrador dog like animal. I think like he family member it have help me to overcome stress

  26. Kathy Silverstein

    What a great idea! I think that is just wonderful. I wonder if they could have a therapy cat also, I would have liked that when I was in school. Petting a cat can be so relaxing. A dog, too, but I’m more of a cat person.

    Actually, I know several people who have service dogs for autism or Asperger’s. The dogs are trained to help calm them down in the event of a meltdown or other extreme anxiety or emotional distress. One friend of mine goes everywhere with hers, and it’s very well trained and really helps her. I have another friend who is in the proccess of getting one. You know what they say – man’s best friend.

    Hopefully more people will realize the benefit that therapy dogs can provide!
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  27. Rosalinda Ord

    Therapy dogs provide affection and comfort to people in hospitals, retirement homes, nursing homes and schools. They are not considered as service or assistance dogs. Cooper is so adorable! He can surely put a smile on patients, retirees, and generally everyone who is feeling down and stressed.

    Rosalinda Ord

  28. Puppycursus

    I read that dog owners and generally healthier than people without dogs, because of the stress relief they offer like you said. It’s true, when I had dog, he took away a lot of stress by just being there for me, now he passed away, and I’m stressed constantly =(

    I’ve got a picture of him on my site:
    [URL removed by moderator]

  29. Anonymous

    I have different pets at home that relieves my stressful day and I certainly agree that my GoldenRetriver puppies and dogs has a therapeutic effect specially when they wiggle and sit on my lap.

  30. Hundeerziehung

    Do you wish you knew how to train your dog? This is what this website is all about.
    You will find a lot of free information about many common dog training problems such
    as barking, biting, jumping on people, pulling on the leash, being aggressive towards
    other dogs, and much, much more.

  31. Paul

    Nice blog. I agree that they are a great comfort.

  32. Bennett Johnson

    After my little puppy ‘Butters’ attacked and bit a mailman,
    I created a website for love of my dog… He was detained in the Humane Society for a month, and the stress I went through while he was gone was overwhelming… But the experience Butters went through was terrible and I share my story in hope that it helps many dog owner to protect their dog just as you care for your child. Just a little lack of awareness can cause and ignorance can cause a serious pain and consequences that you can do without. You can visit Butters at mydogbit.com

  33. Carrie

    What a cute story! I’m all for more pets in the workplace! That goes for dogs and cats too! :)

    [URL removed by moderator]

  34. Proven Addiction Recovery

    Dogs also help those suffering from depression. Let’s all remember that September 2011 is National Alcohol and Drug addiction Recovery month. Substance abuse addictions are spiraling out of control these days especially now with prescription drug dependencies. It’s unfortunate that many rehab centers focus only on getting a person off their substance. There are facilities out there, however, that taper an individual off their addiction first while teaching them new and healthy habits such as weight training, martial arts, healthy eating habits, and learning new skills. If you or someone you know suffers from an addiction, please get the help you need asap.
    [URL removed by moderator]

  35. newport

    Nice post…

    Psychologists today use many different approaches to treating depression. For the more severe cases, the most typical outpatient technique is to blend antidepressant medication with psychotherapy. All of these drugs have minor unpleasant side effects, but those for whom the medications bring relief from depression are usually glad to tolerate them. Psychotherapy should always accompany pharmacological treatment. As the antidepressant improves the underlying moods, the reasons for the despondency must be explored, maladaptive patterns examined, and efforts to make necessary changes supported.
    [URL removed by moderator]

  36. Tamara Madrid

    I love that Harvard is using a therapy dog at their Medical School. This will open so many doors for those of us who want to train their dogs for this kind of work. I’ve been interested in training my three retrievers for both obedience and therapy work in the future. The more Medical Doctors and school encourage this type of use for dogs the more it will help those that need or train these types of dogs in the future. Soon every hotel or nursing home will have four legged therapist on staff.

  37. Susan

    I need to find out a web site on hw to get a dog that would work with my medical prombles.. and having a hard time find one that can help me, can anyone help me out on what website can help me ind a dog for my medical prombles. need to find a good doggie website….

    • Jasmin Espinoza

      @ Susan :
      I had a puppy who I predicted to grow up as a therapy dog but grew up to only like me alone and nobody else which is not a good trait for a therapy dog… So, my advice is to really look for a grown up dog or an older puppy… Where to get Therapy Dogs is one more thing to consider… Shelters and most rescue groups are great places to look for Therapy Dogs but you have to be really careful, it is important for owner to take their time selecting the dog that fits them… I suggest that you talked to staff people and volunteers about the criteria that you really want, your hopes and your dreams… Normally the best Therapy Dogs are the retired show dog… Why? Because the fact that they can make a great show proves their people skills and can lead to be a future Therapy Dogs… Sometimes you just need to take your time and wait for the best dog to find you…

      I got mine from a friend who got it from a local vet. I just had my Sophie registered as Therapy Dog to make things easier when I bring her out.

      You can take a look at
      http://www.registeredservicedogs.com

      Hope this helps! Good luck!

  38. Steve

    The geatest Harvard post ever, WHY because it works.

  39. Gord

    Thanks for a great blog,elderly people always have pets around them,and the saying goes a Dog is a mans best friend.
    [URL removed by moderator]

  40. Phil

    Great post, Christine!

  41. Anonymous

    I read your blog i agree with you i also had a little puppy when ever i m depressed i talk with him and release my tensions.

  42. Jael

    I like your blog. I do believe that pet is a great help in reducing stress. Do you know also that meditation can aid in relaxation? It can reduce stress and lower blood pressure.

    [URL removed by moderator]

  43. Craig Kendall

    My son has Asperger’s syndrome, a type of high functioning autism. You have NO IDEA how much our dachshund has helped him and calmed him over the years. The doc sleeps under the covers with him every night. When my son would have meltdowns and scream and run into his room, there was no way to console him. But if we put the dog in the room with him it was a HUGE difference. He would simply hug the dog and the dog seems to have a sixth sense that my son needed help.

    Therapy dogs are a great support for people with low functioning autism. They can protect young children from running into the street etc. But they are super expensive. Do you know of a source for these dogs that can be more affordable?

    Really highly trained therapy dogs can be a Godsend to kids with autism. Our dog is not a formally trained therapy dog, but then again our son is high functioning and maybe does not need a highly trained dog. And I think the main benefit of the dog is that he helps my son relieve anxiety and deal with daily life much better than if the dog was not there. Unfortunately, most folks with autism and/or Asperger’s syndrome suffer from anxiety. Our dog is like a tranquilizer to my son.

    • Jenn

      The ADA allows you to train your own service dog if you want. Service dogs are really really expensive if you get one from someone that does all the training for you.

      My daughter who is autistic doesn’t speak much and use to throws tantrums when we went into store. I found that if we went places and had our dog in the car she was ok. But if we had to get out o the car it was aweful. I looked around where I live and found someone who would be willing to train the dog we already had as a autisim service dog. We have a daushund, but he is the worlds best service dog for my daughter. He is trained to find her if she wanders off, He is trained to bark if she is hurt. He sits by her side and he makes a great conversation piece. Until we started taking the dog places my daughter would scream if people talked to her. She actually verbalizes a little bit with people now, she is excited to try to tell people about her dog. Our dog has totally changed the world for my daughter.

  44. teresajthomas@pet gates

    Oh! i just love dogs.Without my pets i am no more.So i always in a search of things related to dogs.And i appreciate your post on dog’s stress relief.
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  45. dory

    Dogs do have huge health benefits for humans . Im a dog owner and have been for many years and all of my dogs have given me so much joy and have enhanced my life. I would be lost without them.
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  46. jim

    Dogs are a wonderful help to patients. My mom is 93 years old and she got a puppy. She is like a little kid again with the puppy. The puppy follows here everywhere and she loves the attention. Her whole outlook has changed and I think the puppy has had a tremendous impact on her.
    Thanks,
    Jim
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