More and more therapy dogs can be found in addiction recovery facilities. Interacting with a dog can improve the cognitive functions, social integration, mental stability and emotional responses of a recovering addict. Therapeutic goals are met through nurturing relationships with dogs.
Performing care-giving tasks such as feeding, walking, grooming and petting help recovering addicts to learn important life skills and regain a sense of purpose, fulfillment and responsibility. Fine motor skills, focus and balance are improved. Goal setting is practised and a sense of achievement developed, when these goals are achieved. Teaching a dog new tricks and skills is particularly useful for goal setting and achievement.
As recovering addicts form emotional bonds with a dog, they develop empathy, trust and self-esteem. Through their joyful and loving nature dogs teach recovering addicts about the value of non-verbal communication, self-expression, co-operation and service. Dog-assisted therapy also helps to lower anxiety and depression, which are closely associated with addiction. Treating anxiety and depression is a major component of a lifelong and full recovery process.
Just like humans, dogs respond differently to certain styles of verbal and non-verbal communication. When a recovering addict finds that the dog doesn’t respond to their style of communicating, they are coached to change their approach. This helps them to overcome any self-defeating attitudes and unrealistic expectations and improved their communication skills. This in term will help them over time to re-integrate into society, find work and build better relationships.
Through providing non-judgmental companionship and unconditional love dogs can help recovering addicts who struggle to open up to others to develop positive relationships with other people. Patients tend to feel more comfortable opening up and talking about their addiction to their counselor in the presence of their dog.
Many reputable centres use dog-therapy to support and enhance the typical therapy offered to recovering addicts.