Dogs reduce stress after a traumatic incident

by Marissa Steingold




The Science 

Psychologists at Saarland University showed 60 healthy female subjects a fifteen-minute “traumatic” film clip, and then divided the women into three subgroups. Immediately following the video, the first subgroup spent 15 minutes petting and interacting with a live dog, the second watched a 15-minute video of another person interacting with a dog and the third rested comfortably without any animals. Women who interacted with the live dogs reported lower levels of anxiety, less negative “affect” and a more positive mood than the two other groups. Notwithstanding, the presence of a live dog did not reduce blood pressure or heart rate, nor did it alter the amount of cortisol, or “stress” hormone in the body.

Expert Insight

The psychologists were surprised that the dogs’ presence did not alleviate physiological symptoms of anxiety, considering that they did subjectively help the women deal with stress. According to the researchers, interacting with these dogs stimulated the women’s nervous systems while simultaneously calming them emotionally. Perhaps familiar family pets would elicit a less elevated physiological response.

The Bottom line

Pharmaceuticals prescribed for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) are responsible for a myriad of side effects, but animal therapy could help patients without risk. We still don’t exactly how dogs improve people’s subjective stress level after a stressful event, so more research is warranted.

[1] Lass-Hennemann, Johanna; Schäfer, Sarah K; Römer, Sonja; Holz, Elena; Streb, Markus; Michael, Tanja. “Therapy Dogs as a Crisis Intervention After Traumatic Events? – An Experimental Study.” Frontiers in Psychology.  September 4, 2018.

[2] Sertraline side effects are listed here:  Imipramine side effects are listed here:  Anti-psychotics such as risperidone are particularly dangerous, but prescribed less commonly to sufferers of PTSD.  Read about Risperidone’s black box warning here:,020588s044,021346s033,021444s03lbl.pdf