Pawprints to Sobriety: Benefits of Dog-Friendly Treatment
Our pets are family. They’ve been with us through it all; many have seen us at some of our worst moments. But they still love us and crave our time and attention—and we can’t say that about everyone in our lives.
Rehabs that allow dogs understand the bond between people and our animal companions. Our pets are an essential part of our family unit. They give us nonjudgmental support and companionship when we need it the most. So it only makes sense that they are part of our recovery too.
Bringing your dog to rehab can provide emotional support, promote relaxation, and improve treatment outcomes.
There are plenty of “great” excuses not to start treatment, but leaving your pet behind doesn’t have to be one of them.
What is Pet-Friendly Rehab?
A residential treatment program or rehab facility aims to help you or your addicted family member learn how to live a life free of substances. While in treatment, you learn coping skills and how to succeed in living a long and happy life in recovery. A pet-friendly rehab is a facility that allows you to bring your pet, usually a dog, to rehab with you.
Residential addiction treatment provides intensive treatment programming in a home-like setting where individuals live together under the supervision of trained staff. Staff at residential treatment programs may include doctors, psychiatrists, therapists, social workers, nurses, mental health workers, to name a few.
Some facilities allow individuals to bring their pets, and others have in-house therapy dogs who provide emotional support and comfort to individuals in their program. Some individuals or organizations visit addiction treatment facilities and mental health programs with therapy dogs.
Dogs Helping People
We know that dogs help with various physical and mental health challenges, including enhancing our overall well-being. In fact, a 2019 review showed that owning a dog is associated with a 24-perfect lower risk of death overall.1
In addition to being their favorite furry friends, dogs provide care and support for their owners or others at various levels, in and outside rehab walls.
According to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), service animals are dogs of any breed or size trained to perform a task directly related to a person’s disability.2
Service dogs can perform a wide range of tasks that assist their person, including detecting seizures or panic attacks, retrieving objects, reminding their owner to take medications, and helping them get around in public.
Individuals with service dogs typically need their animal to be with them 24/7. Service dogs require extensive training that can cost upwards of $15,000.3
The ADA protects service dogs, which means they can legally accompany their person in public places like restaurants, hotels, shopping centers, and certain public housing types.
Service dogs are not required to wear vests, and someone may ask about whether or not your dog is a service dog, but they cannot request to see documentation as proof or ask that your dog perform any tasks to prove they are a service dog.2
Therapy dogs help comfort people in many different settings. These animals differ from service or emotional support animals, requiring extensive training before being recognized as certified professional therapy dogs.
Some treatment centers may have in-house therapy dogs or may have a handler bring one in regularly. Research shows that the overall therapeutic experience is enhanced when utilizing a therapy dog.4
Therapy dogs assist people in various settings, including:
- Special needs programs
- Addiction centers
- Nursing homes
The American Kennel Club lists requirements and how to get your dog involved in helping others.
You might consider your pup an emotional support animal, but an official ESD requires a medical letter of recommendation by a mental health professional or physician.
ESDs typically help with their owner’s emotional or mental health but aren’t necessarily trained to perform specific tasks.
ESDs have fewer rights under the law than therapy or service dogs and are more limited in where they can and cannot accompany their owners. Whether or not your dog is a medically recommended ESD, many treatment centers allow you to bring them to treatment.
Dogs and Addiction Treatment
In addition to regular addiction treatment programming, bringing your dog to rehab or utilizing the facility’s therapy dog can provide comfort and support while you’re in treatment for drugs or alcohol.
The chemical oxytocin, or “love hormone,” is released in the brain when we interact with animals, especially our pets.5 Our bond with them is evident, so bringing them to treatment is beneficial and can enhance your experience in various ways.
Because our pets have therapeutic benefits, having dogs in rehab is an excellent addition to your recovery program. Just like addiction, recovery can be a lonely place. And entering rehab is no different.
With your dog by your side, you won’t feel like doing this alone. Your dog is your companion inside and outside of treatment, and they will be with you as you recover from your addiction.
Ways your dog can support you in treatment:
- Being “there” for you
- Non-judgemental support
- No unsolicited advice
- Help you build healthy relationships
Starting a recovery process and entering treatment can be mentally draining and make you uneasy. Dogs help reduce those stress and anxiety levels.5 Having your dog in treatment with you may make you more inclined to participate in your programming too.
Bonding with your dog reduces your anxiety levels and lowers the fear that may come with making a significant change in your life, like going to rehab for drug or alcohol addiction.
Dogs in rehab can facilitate social interaction among individuals and help make people feel at ease during group activities.
Because you regularly care for your dog while in rehab, this can promote empathy and compassion for others, enhancing your relationships with other people in your treatment program.
Incorporating dogs into group therapy can create a sense of community among people. Dogs can also help us connect and have fun with one another.
Caring for your dog in rehab is a great way to reintroduce responsibility into your routine. It’s not just about you—your dog depends on you for food, attention, exercise, and bathroom breaks.
These tasks seem mundane, but getting used to caring for someone other than yourself can be challenging, especially if you’ve been selfish in active addiction. Without knowing it, your dog is holding you accountable, and accountability is a vital aspect of a positive treatment experience.
Learning to care for your dog helps you slowly get back to your daily responsibilities, and you’ll be better equipped for more intense obligations when you return to your life outside of treatment.
Petting, cuddling, and playing with your dog can increase your happiness and improve your mood. Dogs can promote healthy habits like exercise and pick up on how we feel.
In a 2016 study, researchers presented dogs with various human and dog faces paired with a vocalization from the same person or dog in either a positive or negative tone.
The study found that dogs looked significantly longer at faces whose expression matched their tone. This outcome shows that dogs can discriminate between positive and negative emotions.6
Dogs also have been shown to significantly improve outcomes like pain, mood, and other symptoms of distress in patients with chronic pain.5
Pet-Friendly Rehab at Recovery Unplugged
If you’re looking for a treatment program and want to bring your faithful canine companion along, look no FURther—See what we did there? We allow dogs in our programs at Recovery Unplugged, and we look forward to meeting yours!
Remember, you are responsible for your dog while in treatment. That means it’s your job to feed and bathe them and let them out for the bathroom when needed.
If your dog has behavioral problems, check with the staff at your treatment facility before bringing them. You don’t want to add stress to others in rehab or yourself.
Also, your dog needs to be up to date with all shots and vaccinations before joining you for treatment. And you are responsible for supplying their food and accessories and supervising them while they are in our facilities.
Call our admissions team at 1 (855) 954-1194 with questions or to find out what animals are allowed at Recovery Unplugged treatment centers.
Pets in Recovery and Beyond
Your furred bestie is probably one of the most important parts of your life. You depend on them just as much as they depend on you. They’re like family, and sometimes, they’re closer.
Not only can your dog be a great addition to your treatment, but they are also crucial for your recovery. They’ll be beneficial for your mental health and keep you accountable. Remember, they want you at your best too.
We take our music-focused treatment for addiction very seriously, so we are going to hold our content to the same precision standards. Recovery Unplugged’s editorial process involves our editing safeguard and our ideals. Read our Editorial Process.
- Kramer, C. K., Mehmood, S., & Suen, R. S. (2019). Dog Ownership and Survival: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Circulation. Cardiovascular quality and outcomes, 12(10), e005554. https://doi.org/10.1161/CIRCOUTCOMES.119.005554
- US Department of Justice Civil Rights Division (n.d.). Service Animals. Americans With Disabilities Act. Retrieved June 30, 2023, from https://www.ada.gov/topics/service-animals/#about-service-animals
- GoodRX (2022, November 17). How Much Does a Service Dog Cost? GoodRx Health. Retrieved June 30, 2023, from https://www.goodrx.com/health-topic/disability/how-much-does-a-service-dog-cost
- Martin C. Wesley, Neresa B. Minatrea & Joshua C. Watson (2009) Animal-Assisted Therapy in the Treatment of Substance Dependence, Anthrozoös, 22:2, 137-148, DOI: 10.2752/175303709X434167
- Beetz, A., Uvnäs-Moberg, K., Julius, H., & Kotrschal, K. (2012). Psychosocial and psychophysiological effects of human-animal interactions: the possible role of oxytocin. Frontiers in Psychology, 3, 234. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2012.00234
- Albuquerque, N., Guo, K., Wilkinson, A., Savalli, C., Otta, E., & Mills, D. (2016). Dogs recognize dog and human emotions. Biology letters, 12(1), 20150883. https://doi.org/10.1098/rsbl.2015.0883
- Marcus, D. A., Bernstein, C. D., Constantin, J. M., Kunkel, F. A., Breuer, P., & Hanlon, R. B. (2013). Impact of animal-assisted therapy for outpatients with fibromyalgia. Pain medicine (Malden, Mass.), 14(1), 43–51. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1526-4637.2012.01522.x