5 min read


Can Dogs Help with OCD?



5 min read


Can Dogs Help with OCD?


Emotional Support Animals are a great way to help people who suffer from mental disorders like depression, anxiety, and OCD. In fact, many people who suffer from one or more of these ailments claim the difference between suffering from anxiety and OCD and getting it to a manageable point, is having an ESA. An ESA is there for those who need emotional support when they experience episodes of stress, anxiety, or disturbing thoughts. Just the presence of an animal, like a dog, can help calm the person and keep them grounded. 

Let's take a look at what an ESA is, how they help, and how your very own pooch can be your ESA. 


Signs of Dogs Helping with OCD

There are a few signs you can look out for to know if your Emotional Support animal knows when you are suffering from OCD and are stressed. If you are having a particularly difficult time dealing with your OCD at any specific time during the day, your pooch will most likely be able to pick up on these signals. Dogs are very intuitive on picking up on human emotions, especially emotions that include stress, fear, anxiousness, and sadness. 

Therefore, when your OCD flares up, your dog will signal that they are aware this is happening. Of course, this will differ slightly from dog to dog based on their personality. Some dogs will want to come up and cuddle with your, lick your face, or just be close to you to give you something to be with and next you. This provides warmth, love, and comfort that will help soothes any fear and anxiety. 

Other signs may include the dog wagging his tale to help cheer you up or to get you off the couch or out of bed and doing something, like playing with Fido! There is no better medicine than playing with a happy and energetic dog. 

Some dogs may also pace in front of your when they sense something is wrong, be alert in your presence, raise their ears out of curiosity, or sit next to you like they are listening to your emotions. Perhaps they hear your crying or sniffling and what to know what is up and if they can help you. 

Body Language

<p>Here are some signs you might notice when your dog is helping with OCD:<br/></p>

  • Alert
  • Listening
  • Wag Tail
  • Pacing
  • Sniffing
  • Raise Ears

Other Signs

These are some other signs you may notice if your dog is helping with your OCD:

  • Attentiveness
  • Showing Concern For You
  • Sitting Close Or On You
  • Licking Your Face

History of Dogs Helping with OCD


Humans and dogs have been together for more than 55,000 years, meaning there is a very close and special bond that man and dog possess. It was first discovered that animals, like dogs, were able to provide therapeutic benefits to humans in the early 1800s. Florance Nightingale discovered in her studies that small animals were able to help reduce anxieties in children and adults who had been admitted to psychiatric institutions. 

From there, the use of animals in treatments for anxiety and mental disorders, like OCD, grew substantially and became a very common way to treat these disorders. In the 1930's this grew, even more, when Sigmund Freud began using his own dog in psychotherapy sessions for his patients. 

Freud believed that dogs had a sixth sense that could determine when a person was stressed or tense. He used his dog to confirm a patient's level of tension by how close the dog stayed to the patient. If the dog stayed very close, the patient was very tense, anxious, and stressed. If the dog stayed across the room, the patient was not stressed or only had a minimal amount of tension. 

Today, after many studies, it has been confirmed the emotional support animals and therapy animals are known to reduce anxiety, blood pressure, heart rate, reducing stress, depression, OCD, and much more.  

One OCD patient claims his dog cured his OCD and need for total control. Through getting a dog, it added some mess and disorder to his life, which helped him relax and be ok with things not always being perfect. The dogs also provided love and comfort during the tough times along his recovery journey. 

Science Behind Dogs Helping with OCD and Metal Illness


Recently, there has been a huge upward shift in the number of studies and research being conducted on the benefits of dogs, and other animals, in improving mental health - even in the most complicated and challenging disorders. 

Animal-assisted therapy dogs are a step above an emotional support animal, who may not have any specific training to help with mental illness and disorders. These therapy dogs are appointed by a mental health professional and are trained to help their patients with physical, social, emotional, and cognitive function. 

Scientists believe the main reason why people feel calm and joyous around animals, such as dogs, is because a hormone called oxytocin helps to stimulate social bonding, relaxation, trust, and eases stresses and anxieties. 

After many studies, it was concluded that oxytocin increases in both the dog/animal and the human. When oxytocin is increased in the brains, the feelings of anxiety are reduced. 

When someone is suffering from OCD, they will have many intrusive thoughts. A support animal will help combat this issue by tactile or deep pressure stimulation. Repetitive and compulsive behaviors are also helped by the dog physically interrupting the compulsive behavior. 

Training Dogs to Be ESAs or Therapy Animals


One of the most common ways a dog becomes a therapy animal is through the AKC Therapy Dog Program. The first step in the training process is to make sure your puppy or dog is well socialized with other people, dogs, environments, places, and more. 

They must also have the basic commands down pat in all types of situations - this must include the ability to sit, stay, down, leave it, walking on a loose leash, and not jump all over people. 

They must have the AKC Good Citizen title in order to move on to the next step. This is a 3 step training process for both you and your pup. Your dog must be able to pass evaluations like accepting a friendly stranger, sitting politely for petting, appearance and grooming, walking on a loose leash, walking through a crowd, coming when called, reactions to other dogs, and much more. Although not a requirement, it is highly recommended you train your dog to have the Advanced AKC Good Citizen title. A Distraction Proofing class is also very highly recommended. 

After these steps are complete, you must enrol your pooch in a therapy dog class that will help prepare your dog to go on actual therapy visits. At the end of the class, there will be an evaluation to help determine if your dog is ready for the next phase of the training process. 

Visits in an actual therapy setting are extremely important for your dog's success and their ability to effectively help those who need their therapeutic services. After all of the steps are finished, you must register with a national therapy dog association. This will provide you with tons of advice, support through your dog's journey, and insurance. 

Have questions or concerns about your pet?

Chat with a veterinary professional in the Wag! app 24/7.

Get Vet Chat

Safety Tips for Training a Therapy Dogs

  1. Make sure you complete all steps of the training process.
  2. Make sure they are friendly and love people.
  3. Your dog can never be aggressive in any situation.
  4. Make sure they have the proper training.

Written by a Samoyed lover Kayla Costanzo

Veterinary reviewed by:

Published: 02/12/2018, edited: 04/06/2020

Wag! Specialist
Need to upgrade your pet's leash?

Learn more in the Wag! app

Five starsFive starsFive starsFive starsFive stars

43k+ reviews


© 2024 Wag Labs, Inc. All rights reserved.

© 2024 Wag Labs, Inc. All rights reserved.