Meet Gunnar, Certified Therapy Dog with the National Alliance of Therapy Dogs and American Kennel Club (AKC) Canine Good Citizen©
Gunnar started training to be an assistance dog when he was just a few months old. In his first year of puppyhood, he provided assistance to a boy named Juan who traveled from Peru to be treated for severe burns at Shriners Hospital for Children in Los Angeles. When Juan was thousands of miles from home, Gunnar provided a much-needed friend and loyal companion. Juan and the other children at Shriners helped raise Gunnar to be a gentle and patient dog with a special attunement to the needs of people around him.
Today, Dr. Curry and Gunnar are a certified therapy dog team, providing Animal Assisted Therapy (AAT) services to adults, children, inpatient populations, and military service members.
Why Animal Assisted Therapy?
Just making eye contact with a dog has been shown to significantly lower cortisol (stress hormone) levels; decrease blood pressure, stress, and anxiety; and improve coping ability. It comes as no surprise then that regular interactions with a dog in a therapeutic setting can have powerful effects on physical and mental health.
AAT has been shown to be effective in reducing symptoms of a wide variety of mental health issues. Below are just some of the findings from studies evaluating the effectiveness of AAT:
Depression, Anxiety, and Post traumatic Stress:
- Reduced symptoms, better coping ability, increased motivation, increased self-esteem.
Schizophrenia and Severe Mental Illness:
- Improved motivation, more frequent and appropriate social interaction, improved quality of life.
Substance & Alcohol Abuse/Dependence:
- Reduced relapse rates and improved treatment retention.
Dementia & Degenerative Brain Disorders:
- Improved memory retention, improved food intake and nutrition, increased interaction, reduced apathy and depressive symptoms.
Autism Spectrum & Childhood Developmental Disorders:
- Improved language use, diminished cortisol awakening response, greater sensory seeking, greater social seeking, less inattention, less sedentary behavior, more playful, improved focus, more aware of social environment.
Childhood Learning, Academic, and Social Issues:
- Improved reading and problem solving ability, improved empathy for peers, better adherence to instructions, faster motor-skills task completion.