The Healing Powers of Dogs for Individuals with Disabilities

Dogs have the unique ability to love unconditionally. 


If you’ve ever been around a four-legged friend, you’d know how much their loving presence can seemingly melt away your stress.


Oftentimes, individuals with disabilities have barriers that they must cope with on an everyday basis. Having a dog by their side may just have the power to overcome these daily obstacles. Let’s explore how and why that is.


5 Benefits of Pet Dogs for Individuals with Disabilities


1. Improves Mental Health


Have you ever noticed that the presence of a dog can flip your mood around? Studies have shown that spending time with an animal has proven to help decrease levels of cortisol (the stress hormone), as well as lower blood pressure and heart rate. Animals, specifically dogs, have calming effects for people who struggle with depression, anxiety, and stress—which aren’t uncommon for people with disabilities. 


Pets give their owner a sense of purpose and a reason to get out of bed every morning. In fact, Dr. Ann Berger, a physician and researcher at the NIH Clinical Center, stated, “Dogs are very present. If someone is struggling with something, they know how to sit there and be loving. Their attention is focused on the person all the time.”


2. Encourages Physical Activity


Dogs require multiple walks a day. Being a dog owner forces you to get up, get outside, and take a stroll around the neighborhood. If you and your dog have the ability to do so, it could also be fun to go on runs or hikes with your pet by your side.


For those who use wheelchairs, petting, grooming, and holding a dog’s leash can help build strength and dexterity in the arms and hands, while also improving hand-eye coordination. 


3. Boosts Self Confidence


Society has the power to influence a person’s concept of themself. Unfortunately, people with disabilities often deal with discrimination and stereotypes from the world, which can take a huge toll on one’s self esteem. Caring for a dog has the ability to boost a person’s self confidence and the way they view their worth. Because they are now responsible for their pet’s well-being, a dog owner must recognize the importance of their talents and abilities. This will naturally lead to a boost in self esteem and confidence!


4. Offers a companion


It’s no secret that dogs are incredibly loyal, and are often considered to be much-loved members of the family. The unfortunate truth is that having a disability can be isolating at times. When feelings of loneliness arise, an animal will always be there for you—providing a sense of comfort and companionship at all times. Dogs truly are a man’s best friend. 


5. Responds to Medical Episodes


While many pet dogs can be emotionally supportive, only certified Service Animals are able to properly respond to medical episodes. Service Animals are highly-trained animals (usually dogs) whose job it is to protect their owner’s well-being at all times. 


A service dog can be trained to complete a multitude of tasks, including:

  • Calming a person during an anxiety or panic attack
  • Retrieving objects for a person in a wheelchair
  • Providing physical support for an individual who struggles with balance
  • Alerting others if their owner needs assistance
  • Retrieving medication
  • Opening and closing doors
  • Pulling wheelchairs
  • And much more!


A dog can be an incredible addition to a person’s life. They truly have the power to heal emotional wounds and provide endless love. With that being said, there’s a lot of work that goes into owning a dog. We recommend volunteering at a local animal shelter to get to know what it’s like to care for a furry friend. There should be plenty of ways in your community to work with animals—take advantage of those opportunities!


Covey: Stronger Together, Like Birds of a Feather


Covey is a non-profit organization that is devoted to creating opportunities that foster personal growth for adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Our wide range of programs allow for our participants to explore their strengths, interests, and self confidence. Our friendly and knowledgeable staff take pride in watching our participants reach their highest potential. 

Covey is located in the Greater Fox Valley of Wisconsin, and is always happy to welcome new participants! For more information on everything we offer, visit our website.