What About Dogs and ADHD – Does it Work?

In my years of practicing Counseling Psychology I have been asked to write letters in support of allowing patients to own a pet in a condominium. Condo rules may prohibit pets due to fears of the mess or barking.

However, having a pet is comforting and assists the patients in achieving “calm,” which is desperately needed by many. Scientific studies have shown having a pet results in lower cholesterol, lower blood pressure, decreased anxiety and depression, decreased levels of stress in post-traumatic stress disorders, in personality disorders, phobias and results in overall improvement in mental health.  A pet can give humans so much more than just companionship but emotional and mental support. Dogs are incapable of criticizing, judging or voicing their opinions. They snuggle up next to you even if you smell like poop.

Two reports describe the medical benefits of pets.  According to a 2013 white paper from the American Heart Association “…owning a pet, particularly a dog or a cat, is associated with decreased cardiovascular risk factors.”  The November 2015 Current Gerontology and Geriatrics Research published research showing “pet therapy programs have been shown to be effective in helping improve socialization abilities, lower blood pressure, and combat   loneliness.” (1)

From the perspective of the Housing Board, having an emotional service animal comes under the federal rubric of American with Disabilities Act (ADA).  Under ADA guidelines, in order to be considered an Emotional Support Animal, the owner must have a diagnosed psychological disability or condition, such as an anxiety or personality disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), ADHD, depression or other mental health disabilities.

For legal purposes, emotional Service Animals (ESA’s), are considered companions offering mental and emotional support in addition to being trained to recognize other specific symptoms and occurrences.

Regarding ADHD, an Emotional Support Animal is able to provide support of a different kind. Children who suffer from ADHD have many kinds of physiological and mental health manifestations. So, creating an organized system works well. We can tell someone how to do it, or we can do it with them and have them follow a schedule. When it comes to animals, they need to be walked and fed on a timely basis. Therefore, we create a schedule which must be followed. Once our ADHDer starts to maintain a schedule, it tends to carry over to other things, and that is what we are anticipating.

One symptom of ADHD is difficulty with staying organized and planning ahead. Adopting a dog requires the owner to maintain a schedule: the dog needs to be fed, walked and played with on a regular basis. While the idea of creating a schedule seems like a tedious task, it can actually create a pleasant distraction from the everyday stresses that work and school often cause. It could even help with memory and forgetfulness: if you forget to feed him, the pup is going to find a way to let you know!  (2)

For those with the hyperactivity component of ADHD, a dog provides the opportunity to walk, run, chase, swim, or any of the other activities that maybe applicable. My dog swims with the grandkids. They love being in the pool with the dog and the dog appears to love all the attention. It is a symbiotic relationship; one which we all enjoy. As to the hyperactivity component, after the swim, both dog and kids are tired, the only question is who is going to sleep first. Physiologically speaking, serotonin levels increase, depression and anxiety decrease, and our children feel and interact better.

One of the benefits of having an animal is that you get “love.” A dog doesn’t scream at you for doing something that is wrong, there are no recriminations, they are happy when you come home, sad when you leave, and really do care about you. Look at the stories we read of animals who protect their owners, who save their owners at times of danger, who even protect their charges with their bodies when necessary. Dogs, in particular, are loving and caring. When children grow up with dogs, they learn not to be stingy, not to be non-caring and learn to give compassion and love to someone/thing else. Learning comes in many forms, but the best way to learn is to actually, do. Dog ownership allows a person to take the responsibility and therefore, take the chance of loving something. For children and adults with ADHD who grew up as the “person who never did things on time, didn’t succeed, always screwed up, never got it right,” having a dog gives them the opportunity to not only succeed, but to get love in return.

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Howard Chusid, Ed.D, LMHC, NCC is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor, a National Certified Counselor, and a Board Certified Professional Counselor. He also has ADD himself. Dr. Chusid is also a Florida Supreme Court Certified Family and Circuit Civil Mediator and works with divorcing couples with special needs children.  http://www.Thehelpingplacefl.com 

References

  1. https://www.rover.com/blog/dogs-help-people-add-adhd/
  2. http://www.raisingtroubledkids.com/12-ways-dogs-reduce-depression-anxiety/

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      • Sandi
      • December 30, 2019
      Reply

      I live in Canada. I am wanting some information on connections in Canada for a therapy emotional support dog..that I can take everywhere. Please your insight n feed back would be tremendously appreciated

      I have read enuff books on the subject a.d.h.d. for a friend of mine to write her thesis. She herself had it and welcomed the books. She was an addictions counselor at two places in the city.

      Thanks for the information.
      I will read in in the next few days…

      • E
      • September 30, 2019
      Reply

      What if an adult that I suspect of having undiagnosed ADHD refuses to clean up after their dog? It’s true that dogs offer emotional support but I have seen the effects of a family member’s apparent mental illness transfer to the dog who gets his cues from his primary handler. The dog is as impulsive and aggressive as the owner and has permanently damaged most of his joints by crashing through the house and bouncing off door frames and objects (which his owner also does) in addition to having bitten me and other family pets. My family member’s ability to maintain a schedule only encompasses the tasks necessary to keep their dog alive. I am left to deal with urine and feces scattered all over the family home and temper tantrums and name-calling when I ask them to help clean up. Is there any help for people living with someone who has apparent mental issues but refuses admit it and makes the home hazardous and unsanitary? How do you get someone who seems to have ADHD (lifelong clumsiness, lack of emotional regulation, impulsive behavior such as dangerous pushing and shoving, and meltdowns over having to prepare their own food or help with chores at age 40) to clean up after themselves and their pets?

      I’m stuck and I’m desperate for a chance at a decent life and a clean place to live. I’ve been trying to find out if this is bad enough to qualify for mandatory mental health screening because I certainly feel endangered by their behavior and the unsanitary living conditions that I am faced with. I have gotten infected cuts from stepping in puddles of urine left around the home and found old feces under furniture and in the kitchen which causes me a lot of stress. Does anyone know if anything can be done?

      • Jess
      • July 8, 2019
      Reply

      I agree with this article and having ADHD myself. I also own a dog as well. And he does help me in many ways a person or my spouse can not.
      My one question though is that my Primary Care/ Family Care Doctor prescribes my ADHD medication. I am a adult that lives in Florida. However can my doctor who prescribes my medication also able to write a ESA letter as well??

      • Cristina
      • July 4, 2019
      Reply

      Great article. People really can benefit a lot from their furry friend, especially for children. My neighbor, a seven-year-old boy, has ADHD for years. His parents found many natural therapies to treat, but they are not obvious. ADHD leads to many problems in schools and socialization, which affected the mental growth of the boy.
      Last year, one of their friends sent them a Poodle puppy who becomes the doy’s partner and ESA dog later. The boy learns a lot from the puppy, including how to plan a schedule and respect animals and people. From daily walks, feeding, and sleeping, the boy loves to complete those tasks together with the pup. He also knows how to get on well with his canine helper and classmates because the pup taught him the importance of friendship and companionship. Thanks to the esa pup, his parents can focus on the work in the day and receive less complaint from schools. Here is a post including the tasks that ESA dogs help children with ADHD (http://bit.ly/esa-dog-for-adhd). Hope it helps more parents.

        • My son has ADHD+ODD
        • November 10, 2019
        Reply

        My son has ADHD+ODD he is only 5yo and we’re having a buncha troubles at school, i’m called almost everyday to pick him up because he is refusing to do something and gets in trouble for not following the rules, he is a sweet boy, but he can be impulssive…. thinking about a dog very seriously, my son needs help the medication isn’t really helping him right now….

      • Rhonda A. Gillings
      • November 19, 2018
      Reply

      My hope is that people stop recriminations of people who have service dogs, emotional support dogs, etc, and take time to understand how these animals assist people who have them. It’s that simple. Oh sure, people can abuse anything in life but don’t judge harshly until you walk in these peoples shoes. The majority of us are 100% real or we wouldn’t be withstanding all the red tape, looks, stares, negative comments, etc. Trust me it isn’t as easy a journey as you think. We trust our companions for psychological, emotional services and physical guidance that we obviously have challenges with. This past week unfortunately my childhood friend and I had a falling out over my right to have my ESA in my company in her home. She, of course, has the right to allow who she wants in her home. It’s her home! I learned she has phobias of dogs and animals. Fortunately, we both learned to meet each other halfway understanding the medical and mental needs of each other. We learned to open our hearts, and not take for granted each other’s boundaries. I hope in the future we can seek alternative ways to spend time with each other and share common space considering the other person’s needs. Please, people, do the research before criticizing or putting stipulations on your friends, and family. We all have special needs or something that we’re dealing with or rely on to help get us through this waking life and we must learn compassion and support each with love.

      • jodychaplin
      • November 7, 2018
      Reply

      Ironically, I ended up training service dogs while serving a 5-year prison term because of my drug addiction. Now sober for 13 years, I have my own dogs. One, in particular, who runs several miles a day with me. They are my little “rocks” of stability and I could not imagine life without them.

      • Bethzy
      • October 15, 2018
      Reply

      Emotions at a workplace can bring negative emotions, pause for a minute and always remember it when you felt frustration and then surround yourself with good company

      https://www.resumeble.com/career-advice/is-it-okay-to-show-your-emotions-at-work

      • Emma Thomason
      • August 15, 2018
      Reply

      Hi I have ADD and that has caused my to anxiety to increase drastically over the years. And can I have my dog with me in high school? how can an emotional support dog help me?

      • Frank
      • January 16, 2018
      Reply

      Thank you.

      • Robert Redman
      • December 9, 2017
      Reply

      This article really hit home and i wish i wouldve known adhd could possibly get a service dog

        • Emily
        • July 11, 2018
        Reply

        Actually this article pertains to ESAs not Service Dogs, they’re not the same thing. A Service Dog has to be trained to preform a task that mitigates symptoms of a disability, such as allerting to panick attacks or preforming DPT during a panick attack. And ESA purely provides comfort/structure to a persons home life and is not permitted to accompany their owner in public the way a Service Dog does.

      • Patricia Alsup
      • November 24, 2017
      Reply

      Thanks so much. Your article will make writing letters advocating for my. clients to be allowed to keep their emotional support pets very easy. The abundance of research information reminds me of the support there is for my statements that help people with special needs.

      • Karen Pepson
      • November 10, 2017
      Reply

      Dr. C,
      The article you wrote was interesting and informative. I enjoyed reading.
      Great article

      • Jordan
      • November 9, 2017
      Reply

      Great read, great author! Keep it up Dr. C!

      • Ashley Subido
      • November 9, 2017
      Reply

      Very cool!
      This is a great approach, instead of relying on medication (which usually make adhd symptoms like depression worse).
      Good read 🙂

      • Christine McCahery
      • November 9, 2017
      Reply

      Love the article Dr. C Thanks for sharing!

      • Kelli Winbigler-Kinzer
      • November 8, 2017
      Reply

      What a great article Dr. C! I really love reading this. The research on individuals with autism and animal therapy promises amazing results too!!

      • Yankee Doodle
      • November 8, 2017
      Reply

      Great article!

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