Psychologists explain the growing trend of Emotional Support Dogs ahead of International Dog Day
With UK stress levels continually high, demand for so-called “emotional support animals” is booming in the UK, according to leading experts at The University of Law’s Psychology faculty.
According to the University, online searches for emotional support animals have grown by 58% since the start of this year, while one in every 14 adults admit to feeling stressed every single day.
Emotional support animals (ESAs) are an established practice in the US and can even be prescribed by medical professionals. Now, a growing number of people across the UK are searching for how they might turn to our furry friends for support.
A spokesperson at ULaw commented: “There is a growing body of research into the positive impact of having a pet when it comes to our mental health, so the growing number of people turning to emotional support animals feels natural. Among other benefits, pets can encourage us to become more active and get outdoors, which in turn has a knock-on impact on mental wellbeing. What’s more, the feeling of companionship can also help to combat feelings of anxiety and loneliness.
"Research also shows the simple act of petting a dog could reduce the levels of cortisol in the body (the stress hormone), while also providing the owner with a sense of purpose.”
Tommy Wylde, a dog trainer who works with ESAs, comments: “The best therapy dogs are calm, patient dogs that demand very little of their owners in terms of maintenance, grooming and training. While some breeds lend themselves well to being emotional support animals, it's also important to note that it depends on the individual dog and its in built characteristics, its training and its upbringing.”
Tommy offers his advice:
Temperament and behaviour
An ESA needs to be a happy, friendly, patient, and loving dog who isn’t easily shaken. It's important that they get along with different kinds of people, and aren't easily provoked by being pulled in the tail, hugged a bit roughly, or when people are unusually loud, have sudden movement, make intensive eye-contact, etc.
Do dogs really know how we’re feeling?
Generally, mammals understand us a lot better than many other animals. Dogs are particularly social animals, which are very easily emotionally aligned with us humans.
Most dogs can instinctively sense and respond to how we're feeling, as well as express their own emotions in a way that we can relatively easily identify. This understanding of emotion is naturally present in all dogs, however learning to handle the emotions and then respond appropriately to humans is something very different. The dogs that have this bit worked out can make perfect ESAs.
Which breeds are best?
While some breeds tend to be more ideal than others, there are always exceptions. Some of the less common therapy dogs are guard dogs like mastiffs and rottweilers, high-energy dogs such as Border Collies. Generally speaking, the best emotional support dogs are patient and social breeds such as Labradors, Golden Retrievers, and certain mixed breeds.
However, there’s no one size fits all approach here and any breed could fit the bill providing they have the right training, temperament and upbringing.
To find out more about studying Psychology at The University of Law, see our Undergraduate Psychology courses.