Meet Barkley, a 6-year-old Shih Tzu. He is a much-loved member of my family who has also been a pet therapy dog since he was 2 years old. He loves the attention and people of all ages enjoy being with him – he has spent time visiting the elderly in care homes or those living at home on their own, reading with children, or just sitting with children and adults providing company and affection.

Increasingly pets are used across the world in schools, universities and hospitals to help reduce anxiety and stress, and to increase confidence and recovery, regardless of the scenario. In fact, pets have been used since the middle ages, even Florence Nightingale recognised the benefits for patients and staff in her hospitals. Maybe now is the time to start using them more at work.

So is there any evidence about the benefits of pet therapy?

Actually, there is a lot of research on the topic and it has been proven scientifically that interaction with a gentle, friendly pet has significant benefits :

Physical: 

  • Lowers blood pressure.
  • Improved cardiovascular health. 
  • Releases endorphins that have a calming effect.
  • Diminishes overall physical pain. 
  • The act of petting / talking to an animal produces an automatic relaxation effect.
  • Can enhance focus and attention span.

Mental:

  • Lifts spirits and lessens depressions.
  • Decreases feelings of isolation and alienation.
  • Encourages communication. 
  • Provides comfort and increases confidence. 
  • Increases socialisation and a sense of community.
  • Reduces boredom and decreases anxiety. 
  • Creates motivation and reduces loneliness.

Is any of this resonating yet?

Lockdown and the far-reaching impact of the pandemic has brought many of the issues above back to the fore. Coaching is playing an important role in supporting individuals and organisations. But can pet therapy make a personal difference to you and to others on a day to day basis?

Prior to lockdown, Barkley did the occasional visit to the office – which he just loved and resulted in lots of offers to take him for walks, which offers exercise and fresh air for participants, with walking meetings increasingly becoming the norm. He would also sit in on meetings, coaching sessions or 1-1 discussions. The atmosphere would change as a result and the connectivity was instant, any anxiety or stress was reduced or removed – it was palpable. He was an immediate conversation starter and a connection point. Somehow he also helped people open up, share more, accept challenge and to think laterally about topics. 

Out of the office, at the client’s request Barkley would on occasion participate in coaching sessions or meetings, and the impact was instant – a bond was built, and he frequently became more ‘part’ of the discussion, sitting next to the client providing comfort and support, being the practise ‘person’ for a tough discussion or scenario that we walked through. It was amazing to see.

Then lockdown came along – for many people a key theme in the multiple zoom calls I was having was the impact that lockdown was having on them personally and professionally, but also the impact for their families and colleagues. Mental and physical wellbeing was a focus of many of the discussions. 

Lockdown affected Barkley too. I saw the positive impact of pet therapy at home with my family, but he was missing his trips and visits out to meet others. Then he started to sneak into the screen when I was doing video calls – he heard voices, saw the interaction and wanted to join in. As a result, he has started to participate once again in coaching sessions and meetings. It’s not for everyone, but if people ask and are positive about his participation, then he is there. 

He has also helped to draw families and partners into the discussion and open up avenues of debate or discussion that might otherwise not have taken place so quickly. Interestingly, he knows when he is not welcome and keeps out of the way. 

The benefits

The benefits of pet therapy in combination with coaching just keep on revealing themselves:

  • Clarity – it brings focus to the coaching session.
  • Confidence – it enhances the coachee’s self confidence and self belief.
  • Conviction – it increases the coachee’s conviction to follow through on the actions from the session.

If you would like to know more about pet therapy, you might like to check out these resources: 

Want to learn more? Contact Annette: 

Email annette@catalystthinking.com

Call Annette on +44 (0)7849 136293

Book a call