Therapy dogs, which help patients cope with drug abuse, depression and schizophrenia, offer calming, furry companionship to humans in need. And according to a new report by scientists at the University of Veterinary Medicine Vienna, Austria, canines keep calm during the therapeutic sessions, too.
"Our study results suggest that therapy dogs," the researchers write, "were not acutely stressed by participation" in the assistance program. Still, even experienced dogs may feel unease when they encounter new patients, the researchers point out: "Volunteers are often very dedicated to their work, but they also need to be well aware of subtle signs of discomfort in their dogs."
By checking the levels of cortisol -- a hormone released during stress -- in the dogs' saliva before and after therapies, the researchers determined that the sessions didn't alarm the dogs. In fact, cortisol levels in the dogs decreased after repeated therapy sessions with the same patients.