Class Blog · Psychology · Social Cognition

My Black Dog

The last couple of weeks have been quite tough for me, I have been so sick lately that I’ve barely been able to leave my house. Usually we have our dog Marley with us, but since Christmas she’s been spending some well needed time with the “Grandparents” out on the farm. Other than missing her, this got me thinking of other ways she helps me that I don’t notice until she’s not around. Marley is not an official service dog but I know she helps me with my stress, anxiety and those times I feel flat out depressed, she’s always there for me and asks for nothing but the odd scratch in return. So. Because I like to keep things relevant, this week I wanted to focus my blog on dogs and specifically how they interact with individuals with disabilities.

I found an awesome news article from Healthline posed from 2015. It explains that service dogs don’t just help humans with physical disabilities like blindness, but there are a many different types of training dogs can go through to detect acute illnesses like PTSD, diabetes, and epilepsy, or by using their senses to recognize changes in topography/elevation.

The relationship between dogs and humans has gone back many, many years so it wouldn’t be a surprise that there is evidence that dogs are very “clued in”, or sensitive to emotional needs. In the news article, a woman received a German Shepard for her panic disorder, agoraphobia, and severe general anxiety disorder. The dog was trained to provide tactile stimulation and pressure therapy. Not only did she have emotional and physical therapy on hand. Her dog required her to be social by walking him and buying food for him. It might me a simple thing for a lot of people, but getting out of bed when you are depressed can sometimes be the hardest thing you can do. This woman’s service dog also required care in return and she would have to get out of bed to do that. (1)

The other article I came across was out of the U.S. Army Medical Department Journal and looked at the social interactions with dogs throughout history. The first documented use of animals treating the mentally ill occurred in the 9th century Belgium, but, dogs did not receive any specific formal training until the 20th century. It was stated that there has always been ethical tension between interests of the parties involved because a dog must put a humans needs before its own when becoming an assistance animal. Preventing conflicts of interest between dogs and their roles should be taken into consideration if an individual wants to take on the responsibility of acquiring one.

There are 2 categories as to how a dog can be further characterised when providing assistance to a human:

Service dogs and Therapy dogs. Although the phrase “assistance dog” is used frequently, and there is an organization called “Assistance Dogs International,” the term assistance dog has no meaning in law. A recent amendment to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) (42 USC [section]12101-12213 and 47 USC [section]225, 611), which became effective March 15, 2011. (2)

Irrespective of which research methodology is used, as Beck and Katcher (53) have emphasized, it must be interdisciplinary in nature, involving not only mental health and medical professionals, but also sociologists, ethnologists, animal behaviorists and trainers, and likely numerous other professional communities. Our awareness of the extensiveness of the human relationship with dogs may have been awakened with the finding of the site of the joint burial of an ancient human and a puppy approximately 12,000 years ago, (54) but we may only have scratched the surface of the real meaning of the relationship (Shubert, 2012).

Regardless of why we have our animals in our life, we should know that any positive relationship requires understanding and compromise. Dogs want nothing more than to serve us and that can be a delicate balance for an individual that is not mentally healthy, we must pay them as much respect as they give us. Below is Marley and I, she is actually my boyfriend’s dog but I think she loves me more… 😉


(1) Haskins, J. (2015, August 26). Service Dogs Help People with More Than Blindness. Retrieved February 16, 2017, from

(2) Shubert, J. (2012, April-June). Dogs and human health/mental health: from the pleasure of their company to the benefits of their assistance. U.S. Army Medical Department Journal, 21+. Retrieved from

Feature Photo: Stiff, P. M. (n.d.). Black Dog [Photograph found in Tumblr]. Retrieved February 16, 2017, from

*Note: Other photos included in this blog are mine!


6 thoughts on “My Black Dog

  1. IAn article that I found talks about counseling centres on university campuses in the US and their concerns with emotional support animals on campus. Emotional support animals don’t have restrictions so they can, in theory, be any animal that provides support for people. Service animals are generally dogs and are trained to provide specific support and tasks for individuals. While they are helpful, there are still concerns with emotional support animals being used because of the lack of guidelines around them. I hope that emotional support animals become more widely recognized because I do believe, and research supports, that animals can provide theraputic relief for those with mental illness.


  2. Great topic you have chosen. I enjoyed reading about Marley, she is so cute. I found this article which is supplementary to your topic. “Therapy dogs on campus: Recommendations for counseling center outreach.” You mentioned Marley always helps you in a positive way. In this article, they look at a dog therapy program which is helping out university students. Dogs improve one’s social cognition, by relieving things like stress and anxiety. University can be quite tough, and it can make it easier with therapy dogs. I have noticed the University of Lethbridge also has therapy dogs present, which is a great resource for the students.

    Daltry, R. M. (01.2015). Journal of college student psychotherapy: Therapy dogs on campus: Recommendations for counseling center outreach Haworth Press Inc. doi:10.1080/87568225.2015.976100


  3. I love dogs! I wish every blog was about dogs! Martin and Farnum studied therapy dogs and how they positively impact children who have pervasive developmental disorders. Children with this developmental disorder have severe impairment of social functioning and social interactions. Therapy dogs can increase the attachment children have with their social environments – the children are able to develop a bond first with a dog and then extend this bond further into their external environment and to other human beings. Children were shown to be happier and have an increase in energy when they were able to bond with a therapy dog. They were also less distracted and able to engage in prolonged conversation with others. Everyone should have a dog! If you don’t have one, go the the shelter right now!


  4. There’s so much research showing how helpful dogs can be for mental health! In my research on oxytocin I found that having a pet can increase oxytocin production which promotes sociality and feelings of closeness and calm. There’s also a ton of research showing that having pets can decrease depression symptoms and anxiety symptoms. One things that was present in the news a while ago was the use of therapy dogs in court rooms, specifically for children who had undergone trauma and had to testify. Ontario was the first to implement this program. By having the dog in the courtroom, victims who were feeling anxious could be calmed down while they spoke. Not only did this allow them to fully testify and put perpetrators behind bars, it also allowed them to feel safe and secure while reliving experiences. I think this is a great program and would love to see it implemented in more places!


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