Scientific Research Confirms that the Presence of Dogs Reduces Stress in Humans
The use of dogs in the courtroom has expanded rapidly in the United States and is now spreading worldwide, as a mechanism for calming and supporting individuals involved in courtroom proceedings. The scientific evidence for the physical and mental calming effects of appropriately bred and trained dogs is now overwhelming, and includes both physical and psychological effects across short and long time frames. Wells (2009) provides an excellent review.
For instance, there is strong evidence of short-term physical effects: petting an animal produces short-term decreases in blood pressure and /or heart rate (e.g., Eddy, 1996; Katcher, 1981; Katcher, Friedmann, Beck, & Lynch, 1983; Shiloh, Sorek, & Terkel, 2003; Vormbrock & Grossberg, 1988;Wilson, 1991). In fact, these effects may be seen even in individuals simply in the presence of a dog (Allen, Blascovich, & Mendes, 2002; Allen, Blascovich, Tomaka, & Kelsey, 1991). Of less relevance to this discussion are the many studies illustrating pronounced long-term positive effects on physical health as well.
There are also well-documented short-term (and long-term) effects on psychological health, including positive effects on social communication and ability to make social contacts, reduction in feelings of loneliness and isolation, and improvements in depression and self-esteem (reviewed in Wells, 2009).
Participating in courtroom or other legal proceedings (e.g., depositions, forensic interviews) is arguably one of the most stressful events that most people experience. It is clear that the presence of an appropriately bred and trained dog can significantly reduce the anxiety associated with these experiences, thereby improving the efficiency and quality of the legal process.
James C. Ha, PhD, CAAB
Research Associate Professor & Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist
Department of Psychology
University of Washington
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