Emotional support animals

10+ years ago when I was working as a science manager in a local council, I recall that a member of staff had been trying unsuccessfully to get pregnant.  Her doctor suggested that she and her husband adopt a dog (which they did) because he felt that caring for the dog would help relieve the anxiety about not getting pregnant.

In effect, her doctor prescribed an emotional support animal.   This is an animal that, simply by virtue of its presence in the person’s life, provides companionship and support.

Such animals have been increasingly in the news for all the wrong reasons.  Untrained animals being brought onto US-based airlines and causing havoc including going to the toilet in the aisles and biting passengers.

Emotional support animals are not trained service dogs.   Whenever an incident occurs that makes the news, it makes life a little harder for people who truly need a service dog.

Denver International Airport

Photo courtesy of Denver International Airport

According to the Americans with Disabilities Act, a service animal must be trained to perform tasks for a person with a disability, be it physical or psychiatric. Disabilities include things like being blind or deaf, using a wheelchair, relying on a dog to remind you to take meds, or having a dog around in case of an anxiety attack.

Under federal law, only dogs and miniature horses weighing less than 100 pounds qualify for the “service animal” designation.

The major airlines are responding with tightened rules for traveling with emotional support animals and I think this is a good thing.

Here are the steps passengers have to take to bring an emotional support animal into the main cabin on one of the three major US airlines:

  • American – Passengers must submit a document signed by a licensed doctor or medical health professional which states that the passenger has a “mental health or emotional disability” and needs the animal “for emotional support or psychiatric service” on the flight or at the passenger’s destination. The document needs to have been signed within the past year and must be submitted at least 48 hours before the flight.
  • Delta – Starting March 1, passengers will have to submit three documents if they wish to travel with an emotional support animal. In addition to a signed statement from a medical professional, passengers will have to provide vaccination dates and the contact information of the animal’s veterinarian and sign a statement that claims the animal is properly trained “to behave in a public setting” and take the passenger’s “direction upon command.” The document needs to have been signed within the past year and must be submitted at least 48 hours before the flight.
  • United – Passengers must submit a document from a medical or mental health professional which states that the passenger has a “mental health-related disability” and that the emotional support animal “is necessary to the passenger’s mental health or treatment.” The document needs to have been signed within the past year and must be submitted at least 48 hours before the flight.

I’m not against the designation of emotional support animals, particularly if a health professional has prescribed one.

That said, let’s be honest that most of us don’t train our dogs to the standard of a service dog because we don’t have to.  Subjecting the traveling public to a dog that you love but isn’t properly trained is just wrong.

Kathleen Crisley, specialist in dog massage, rehabilitation and nutrition/food therapy, The Balanced Dog, Christchurch, New Zealand

Source:  Business Insider



The Pet Effect

The Pet Effect is an educational campaign to raise awareness of the health benefits of pets and to encourage veterinary and other pet professionals to understand their role in promoting the benefits of the human-animal bond.

Needless to say, this is an issue very near and dear to my heart.

I am a passionate supporter of “Adopt, Don’t Shop” and, because of my work with dogs and owners as a canine massage therapist, I have the honored position of working with dogs and their owners as a team.  We often focus on quality of life for the dog.  In many cases, the quality of the dog’s life is a direct consequence of what is happening in their human family and vice-versa.

I really like the Pet Effect’s latest video – Adopt a Human – because it puts a different perspective on adoption.

Did your dog rescue you?

Kathleen Crisley, specialist in dog massage, rehabilitation and nutrition/food therapy, The Balanced Dog, Christchurch, New Zealand

Sit, Stay, Heal: Study finds therapy dogs help stressed university students

Therapy dog sessions for stressed-out students are an increasingly popular offering at North American universities. Now, new research from the University of British Columbia confirms that some doggy one-on-one time really can do the trick of boosting student wellness.

“Therapy dog sessions are becoming more popular on university campuses, but there has been surprisingly little research on how much attending a single drop-in therapy dog session actually helps students,” said Emma Ward-Griffin, the study’s lead author and research assistant in the UBC department of psychology. “Our findings suggest that therapy dog sessions have a measurable, positive effect on the wellbeing of university students, particularly on stress reduction and feelings of negativity.”

In research published today in Stress and Health, researchers surveyed 246 students before and after they spent time in a drop-in therapy dog session. Students were free to pet, cuddle and chat with seven to 12 canine companions during the sessions. They also filled out questionnaires immediately before and after the session, and again about 10 hours later.

The researchers found that participants reported significant reductions in stress as well as increased happiness and energy immediately following the session, compared to a control group of students who did not spend time at a therapy dog session. While feelings of happiness and life satisfaction did not appear to last, some effects did.

“The results were remarkable,” said Stanley Coren, study co-author and professor emeritus of psychology at UBC. “We found that, even 10 hours later, students still reported slightly less negative emotion, feeling more supported, and feeling less stressed, compared to students who did not take part in the therapy dog session.”

While previous research suggested that female students benefit from therapy dog sessions more than male students, the researchers found the benefits were equally distributed across both genders in this study.

Since the strong positive effects of the therapy dog session were short-lived, the researchers concluded that universities should be encouraged to offer them at periods of increased stress.

“These sessions clearly provide benefits for students in the short-term, so we think universities should try to schedule them during particularly stressful times, such as around exam periods,” said Frances Chen, the study’s senior author and an assistant professor of psychology at UBC. “Even having therapy dogs around while students are working on their out-of-class assignments could be helpful.”

The therapy dog sessions were organized in partnership with UBC’s Alma Mater Society and Vancouver ecoVillage, a non-profit organization that provides therapeutic services, including therapy dog sessions, and mental health wellness services.

Source:  University of British Columbia press release


Jake the Diamond Dog

It’s spring training time and soon the baseball diamonds all around the USA will be open again for Major and Minor League Baseball.

So I thought it would be worth giving Jake a mention.  Jake is a special Golden Retriever who travels around the Minor Leagues entertaining the public.

Jake has many duties, such as retrieving bats and balls and even bringing water out to the umpires.

Good boy, Jake.

And bring on baseball season!

Kathleen Crisley, specialist in dog massage, rehabilitation and nutrition/food therapy, The Balanced Dog, Christchurch, New Zealand

The importance of “Dog Speak”

Scientists at the University of York have shown that using ‘dog-speak’ to communicate with dogs is important in relationship-building between pet and owner, similar to the way that ‘baby-talk’ is to bonding between a baby and an adult.


Dogs paid more attention to people that used ‘dog-speak’ (photo courtesy of University of York)

Speech interaction experiments between adult dogs and humans showed that this particular type of speech improves dog attention and may help humans to socially bond with their pets.

Previous studies on communicating with dogs had suggested that talking in a high-pitch voice with exaggerated emotion, just as adults do with babies, improved engagement with puppies but made little difference with adult dogs.

Researchers at York tested this theory with new experiments designed to understand more about why humans talk to dogs like this and if it is useful to the dogs in some way or whether humans do this simply because they like to treat dogs in the same way as babies.

Speech register

Dr Katie Slocombe from the University of York’s Department of Psychology, said: “A special speech register, known as infant-directed speech, is thought to aid language acquisition and improve the way a human baby bonds with an adult.  This form of speech is known to share some similarities with the way in which humans talk to their pet dogs, known as dog-directed speech.

“This high-pitched rhythmic speech is common in human interactions with dogs in western cultures, but there isn’t a great deal known about whether it benefits a dog in the same way that it does a baby.

“We wanted to look at this question and see whether social bonding between animals and humans was influenced by the type and content of the communication.”

Unlike previous experiments, the research team positioned real humans in the same room as the dog, rather than broadcasting speech over a loud speaker without a human present.  This made the set-up more naturalistic for the dogs and helped the team test whether dogs not only paid more attention to ‘dog speak’, but were motivated to spend more time with the person who had spoken to them in that way.

Dog-related content

Researchers did a series of speech tests with adult dogs, where they were given the chance to listen to one person using dog-directed speech containing phrases such as ‘you’re a good dog’, and ‘shall we go for a walk?’, and then another person using adult-directed speech with no dog-related content, such as ‘I went to the cinema last night.’.

Attention during the speech was measured, and following the speech, the dogs were allowed to choose which speaker they wanted to physically interact with.

The speakers then mixed dog-directed speech with non-dog-related words and adult-directed speech with dog-related words, to allow the researchers to understand whether it was the high-pitched emotional tone of the speech that dogs were attracted to or the words themselves.


Alex Benjamin, PhD student from the University’s Department of Psychology, said: “We found that adult dogs were more likely to want to interact and spend time with the speaker that used dog-directed speech with dog-related content, than they did those that used adult-directed speech with no dog-related content.

“When we mixed-up the two types of speech and content, the dogs showed no preference for one speaker over the other.  This suggests that adult dogs need to hear dog-relevant words spoken in a high-pitched emotional voice in order to find it relevant.

“We hope this research will be useful for pet owners interacting with their dogs, and also for veterinary professionals and rescue workers.”

The research paper, ‘’Who’s a good boy?!’ Dogs prefer naturalistic dog-directed speech, is published in the journal Animal Cognition.

Source:   University of York media release

Your dog’s poo

They say that the eyes are the window to the soul; in many ways your dog’s poo is a window on their health.

(I never thought I’d see the day when I wrote about poop – but there’s a first time for everything.)

Have you noticed that the color of your dog’s poo changes with what they are fed?  For example, if you are feeding raw venison, chances are the poo is quite dark.

If, however, the stool has a noticeably black color such as in this photo, this can indicate digested blood and you should be off the vet for a check (don’t be shy, take a sample with you!).

A yellow or slightly green tone indicates a rapid transit time in the bowel, typical if your dog has had diarrhea, as in below.  But consistently soft stools can also be an indicator of bowel disease such as IBD.

Diarrhea or loose stool

A white or chalky color to the stool indicates a very high content of calcium, often found in dogs that are being fed raw with a high bone content.  If your dog is passing stools of this color, they are at risk of constipation from the bone material they are ingesting because of the dryness and risk of impaction.  In my practice, I am seeing  instances of poor mixing of raw foods and it usually from the same supplier – which is why I recommend only certain sources of food to my customers.

White chalky stools, an indicator of high bone content

If you see bright red blood in the stool, it’s also time to talk to your vet and of course, if you see visible worms than a vet visit is also recommended.

And finally, if your dog passes poos that are a neon green in color, they’ve been exposed to rat or mice poison and urgent attention is needed.

Kathleen Crisley, specialist in dog massage, rehabilitation and nutrition/food therapy, The Balanced Dog, Christchurch, New Zealand


National Pet Health Survey (USA)

A large citizen science project is underway and owners of dogs and cats in the USA have a chance to contribute via a 6 minute survey.


Over 55% of U.S. households own a pet dog or cat. These companion animals can have direct benefits to their owners’ health and well-being. Because pets often share their owners’ living spaces and have accelerated life spans, they can also be important indicators of human exposure to chemicals and potential health risks. Pets can be sentinels for diseases and exposures in a shared environment.

The One Health Commission (OHC) and the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) are working together on the National Pet Health Survey, a research project using voluntary input from dog and cat owners to help identify pet health trends and disease hotspots across the United States.

The OHC is administering the survey with promotional help from CDC’s One Health Office and other organizations. EPA is collaborating with the OHC on this effort and will be analyzing the collected survey data.

The intent for the survey data collection is to provide scientists, concerned pet owners, and the general public with one of the largest health and disease databases for pet dogs and cats across the U.S. Where possible the data will be summarized into data layers and integrated into EPA’s EnviroAtlas website. Through EnviroAtlas, the public will be able to display pet health information by specified areas, such as zip codes or states, in order to learn about emerging pet health issues.

The survey is open to the public and accepting responses (as of October 2017). Data collection will take place until January 20, 2020, or until the maximum number of respondents (300,000) has filled out the survey, whichever comes first.

With the huge number of pets in the United States, I’d suggest getting your form in quickly!

As for New Zealand and other countries, the One Health Commission suggests:  If you live outside the U.S., consider leading a pet health survey in your region.

Kathleen Crisley, specialist in dog massage, rehabilitation and nutrition/food therapy, The Balanced Dog, Christchurch, New Zealand