Dogs as Healers: Explorations of How Dogs Promote Healing and Their Role as Healers


December 2023

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Dogs have been present in our lives for thousands of years. As our relationship with them has taken many forms and shifted over that time, one thing has remained: dogs have been a part of human healing in various ways. From being symbolic ancient healing deities to the therapy dogs and service dogs we think of today, dogs have alleviated our suffering in countless ways. However, we often don’t include dogs in our descriptions of who are healers. Rather, healers are mainly considered to be healthcare professionals such as doctors and nurses. In this thesis, I aim to understand what a healer is and who is a healer, thus expanding who can be a healer to dogs. To do this I explore dogs as healers in three ways. First, I examine the ways dogs have been healers throughout history. Second, I demonstrate the therapeutic benefits of interacting with dogs in clinical settings. Third, I use a practical approach to show how a limited understanding of a healer can inhibit care for people using an example of psychiatric service dogs for veterans. These three approaches show that using a broad and general understanding of healing and a healer does apply to dogs and that dogs are valuable contributors to promoting healing. This expanded understanding can then further the ability to alleviate human suffering by recognizing and appreciating dogs as healers.