The therapeutic impact that dogs have on humans has long been recognised. Indeed, from seeing-eye dogs and therapy dogs to canines that cleverly assist patients with physical recovery—our four-legged friends play a vital role in the lives of humans.

Certainly, numerous studies have shown dogs have the ability to lower blood pressure, reduce anxiety, improve human wellbeing and boost our happiness. However, research released by the University of Portsmouth claims robotic dogs may be just as beneficial as real therapy dogs! What say you?

Could robots be better than real therapy dogs?

Sure, a robot pet doesn’t need feeding. Nor does it need daily exercising but surely it can’t be a better alternative to a real therapy dog!

Researchers from the University of Portsmouth believe robots could be the ideal replacement for our real canine chums. Study supervisor Dr Leanne Proops from the Department of Psychology, says, “We know that real dogs can provide calming and enjoyable interactions for children—increasing their feelings of wellbeing, improving motivation and reducing stress.

“This preliminary study has found that biomimetic robots—robots that mimic animal behaviours— may be a suitable replacement in certain situations and there are some benefits to using them over a real dog.”

In the UK study, the researchers used real and robot dogs to interact with 34 children aged 11-12. The children each participated in two play sessions—one with the real dog and one with the robot dog.

While the children spent a similar amount of time stroking the real and the robot dog, researchers found they spent a greater amount of time interacting with the robot.

However, the children claim they much preferred the session with the real dog. Although the researchers say the children expressed more positive emotions following interaction with the robot dog.

“This is a small-scale study, but the results show that interactive robotic animals could be used as a good comparison to live dogs in research, and a useful alternative to traditional animal therapy,” says Dr Proops.

Robot dogs—a possible companion for seniors

I’m sure most pet lovers would agree there’s no denying real dogs are the best companions. However, while many people adore dogs there are some people that don’t. In this situation, a real therapy dog may not be appropriate.

There is also the health and wellbeing of therapy dogs to take into consideration. Therapy dogs can become incredibly tired and stressed from their important work helping humans. Meanwhile, robot dogs are easier to clean and can be worked for longer periods of time.

However, while there’s still an obvious place for real-life therapy dogs, robot dogs have been found useful for people coping with dementia and loneliness.

Indeed, certain electronic pets (robotic cats and dogs) are being marketed at older people. These ‘companion pets’ are interactive and designed to provide love and company to their senior owners. They will nuzzle into you when petted, respond with feline and canine noises and they even have a heartbeat!

Watch this space

While a robot might not be everyone’s idea of ‘man’s best friend’, for some people they can bring joy and comfort. What’s more, they offer happiness and companionship, without the need to pick up dog poos or clean out kitty litter trays. Surely, that has to be a positive thing!

So, whether or not therapy dogs of the future will be real or robotic is yet to be decided. One thing that’s certain is that robotic animals have grown in popularity since their introduction in the early 90s.

They have also grown in sophistication; they are cuddlier and cleverer now. Moreover, it’s certain they’ll continue to develop in terms of their design and functionality, which means their possible role as therapy dogs of the future is highly plausible. So, watch this space!

Information sources:

  • Robots could replace real therapy dogs. 2020. Vet Practice mag. Accessed online via:
  • Robots could replace real therapy dogs. 2020 Science Daily. Accessed online via:

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Liz has a passion for all things cat and dog, and was one of the first in Australia to bring Pet Insurance to the market. She has headed up Petsecure for the past 12 years, and is committed to promoting and supporting the amazing work done by rescue groups around Australia, and those who work to promote a better life for all animals.

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