In the aftermath of the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, photos of comfort dogs at the scene of the students’ first day back were deeply poignant. It’s just another day at work for comfort dogs, though: they’re often used in crisis situations to help people remain calm. They can even be helpful in times of grief.

It’s not all that surprising that dogs would be helpful in a crisis, as interacting with dogs has a positive impact on people in many ways.

The physical benefits of interacting with a friendly dog are well documented. The act of petting an animal produces an automatic relaxation response that can sometimes reduce the amount of medication a person needs. According to research published in the National Center for Biotechnology Information, such interaction can also:

  • Lower blood pressure
  • Improve cardiovascular health
  • Release endorphins (oxytocin) that have a calming effect
  • Diminish overall physical pain

Dog can have a positive impact on a person’s mental state as well. Spending time with a dog can often:

  • Lift spirits and ease depression
  • Decrease feelings of isolation, anxiety, loneliness and alienation
  • Encourage communication
  • Provide comfort
  • Increase socialization and sense of community

Comfort dogs and their handlers go through special training so they can respond to the high demands of a crisis environment. Certification requires a three-hour screening process, obedience trial, crate test and role play. Once they pass this test, they move on to a three-day certification workshop with rigorous training to ensure the dogs are up to the task.

Labs and retrievers are often used as comfort dogs, but in fact a variety of breeds can fill this role, including large breeds such as the St. Bernard and bull mastiff, and small breeds such as poodles, Cavalier King Charles spaniels and even Chihuahuas. And they certainly don’t have to be show dogs. Some of the best comfort dogs are mutts who were once in shelters. The important thing is not the breed but the personality: a comfort dog should be gentle, patient, friendly and at ease in a variety of situations.

Comfort dogs are a useful tool in helping people cope with grief and begin to heal, but they’re far from the only thing that brings comfort. Some people benefit from interaction with friends and family, while others need the ongoing help of a therapist or support group. For most people, the path to healing begins at the funeral service.

At Skylawn Funeral Home and Memorial Park, we are dedicated to comforting families in times of loss. Call us at (650) 227-3142 to learn more about all we have to offer.