Sometimes it seems like dogs have a sixth sense. They have a special ability to read people in a way that humans can't. Dogs can tell when we are fearful and they react to us when we are celebratory and happy. Spending time together in enjoyable ways creates a stronger bond between human and dog.
The comfort provided by the love of a dog is unlike any other love. It is calming and reassuring. Cuddling and playing with dogs certainly makes us feel good and often makes us calmer. Does that mean that dogs can help with severe anxiety? Can they help with panic attacks?
Signs that Dogs Can Help with Panic Attacks
Dogs are very intuitive animals. Being with a dog produces calming effects and feelings of contentment. This comfort and security helps humans come back to earth and feel better. Dogs can indeed help with panic attacks.
Using their keen sense of smell and their ability to closely read body language and facial expressions, dogs are able to detect the many needs of humans. When people are fearful, they produce more sweat and dogs can smell this increase. They then respond accordingly depending on their breed and personality. Some dogs try to calm a fearful person while other dogs become fearful as well.
When we are sad, our posture changes and we tend to get more slouched. Our faces are forlorn and our body language is closed off. Many dogs will notice this and approach their owners in a non-threatening manner. Then they will cuddle or comfort in the way they have learned over time.
Dogs can even tell when brain chemicals that regulate emotion are high or low. They can use this ability to predict when a person is becoming anxious. They may notice more sweat production, increased heart rate in their human, or fearful facial expressions.
Dogs help with panic attacks by immediately being by the side of their humans for support. They will calmly provide a warmth that sometimes seems impossible in the midst of a panic attack. Dogs also decrease anxiety all around, which can lead to less anxiety and less panic attacks over time.
History of Dogs Helping with Panic Attacks
Over 15,000 years ago, the friendship between man and dog blossomed. Dogs are descendants of wolves. Wolves were the first animals to ever be domesticated. The partnership of the two species began when humans started throwing their food on the ground after they ate it. This brought wolves closer and closer to human communities. Wolves learned that if they were non-threatening, humans would allow them to get closer. Eventually, wolves were helping humans hunt and providing protection. In return, humans gave the wolves their leftovers and shelter.
Wolves began to separate and some evolved into the dogs we know and love today. Dogs became so perceptive of human emotion in order to continue their bloodline. The dogs who were better able to respond appropriately to human social cues were bred and their personality traits remained and grew stronger.
Dogs became a part of the family, and individuals began choosing their own dogs. These dogs were bred with similar dogs, creating the many different combinations of dog breeds we see today. Dogs became a source of great comfort for humans.
Now, dogs are able to help with panic attacks with the skills they have inherited from their ancestors. We are able to train our dogs to specifically help us with panic attacks.
Science of Dogs Helping with Panic Attacks
Some dogs are specially trained to be psychiatric service dogs. This means that they provide emotional support for people who suffer from depression, anxiety, and other mental health obstacles. These dogs are taught to use their senses to detect anxiety. They are then able to provide the response and support that their human needs.
Dogs have an amazing sense of smell. This helps them determine anxiety levels in humans. While humans have around 6 million olfactory receptors, dogs have up 300 million. This increases their ability to detect smells that humans could never smell. For example, the fight-or-flight hormone, adrenaline, is produced when we become anxious. Dogs can smell this and then react accordingly.
Dogs also use their ability to depict what our body language is saying about our current mental state. Psychiatric service dogs are especially attuned to the mood of their human. They can often predict a panic attack before it happens. This will help the human make it through the panic attack without so much intensity. Dogs can even provide support in order to stop the panic attack from happening.
When dogs and humans are having a bonding moment, both parties are releasing a feel-good brain chemical called oxytocin. This brain chemical increases feelings of love and happiness. As a result, the bond grows even stronger. An increase in feel-good chemicals can reduce feelings of anxiety not just in times of panic, but also when anxiety is subtle. Over time, this can decrease anxiety and help panic attacks happen less frequently.
Training Dogs to Help with Panic Attacks
Many dogs are specifically trained to hone their abilities in order to be of service to others. These dogs are trained by professionals to perform a variety of tasks. Psychiatric service dogs can help those suffering from anxiety in many ways. When humans are in anxiety-inducing social situations, dogs can pretend that they need to be taken outside so that their owner can have an excuse to leave the room. Psychiatric service dogs can also be trained to give comforting hugs.
While it would be hard to teach a typical dog complicated support actions, it is totally possible to train your dog how to react to certain cues. You can do this first by just spending time with your dog. Participate in activities and play with your dog. This will help him learn things about your general behavior and personality that you might not even pick up on.
When you want your dog to respond to a specific soçial cue in a specific way, you can begin by using vocal commands along with body language. When you take a certain posture or display a certain mood you can also say a verbal command such as "hug."
First, you can show your dog what a hug is while saying "hug." You can then praise him and show him that you are pleased when he performs that verbal command. Over time, you can begin showing your mood and saying "hug" while waiting for your dog to perform the task you have asked. Over time, your dog will know what you need when you ask for it. You can expand his skills by teaching him other cues.
Over the course of consistent and regular training, dogs broaden their skills and their intellect. This helps make them more perceptive of the world around them. It also increases feelings of calmness for you.
Written by a Corgi lover Simone DeAngelis
Veterinary reviewed by:
Published: 02/16/2018, edited: 04/06/2020