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Can dogs be used for therapy?

Introduction

People who are dealing with difficult life transitions, mental health issues, or physical challenges are in need of companionship and comfort. Therapists and other helping professionals have learned to appreciate the many benefits of therapy dogs in these difficult and challenging situations.

First, the warmth and fuzzy feeling that we get from being able to interact with our furry friends is unbeatable. Interactions bring happiness and allow us to share moments with another living being. It’s a way to be present in the world and distract from our troubles.

A visit with a therapy dog does not mean that you have to have a great time with your dog. Research has shown that therapy dogs can have many psychological and physiological benefits.

Signs a Dog is Good for Therapy

Therapy dogs require a dog with the right temperament. Therapy dogs should be obedient and willing to let strangers pet them. They must also have the ability to calmly deal with people who may not be as steady as they are.

To visit clients, the therapy dog should be clean and well-groomed. Therapy dogs that are friendly and mellow are the best. Therapy dogs that are playful and friendly can also be great if they can follow social commands.

Therapy dogs provide comfort through their presence and friendly behaviors. They are socially able and able to listen to both the words and tone spoken by the handler and the recipient. They are alert and responsive to their surroundings. You will be able to tell the recipient how friendly the dog is by its tilting of head and waving tail.

Some breeds are known for their ability to be therapy dogs. St. Bernard is a gentle giant, affectionate and protective. The Poodle is a beautiful dog. However, he is also intelligent, intuitive and responsive to people. With his friendly disposition, the Golden Retriever makes a great therapy dog.

Many smaller breeds are able to harness the cuteness factor. The Pug is a cute and affectionate dog who loves to be petted. The Corgi is a gentle, family-friendly dog that’s well-suited for therapy visits. Bichon Frises are hypoallergenic, making them ideal for hospitals and people with allergies. The French Bulldog is a dog that is incredibly cute and craves attention.

Therapy dogs love to be touched and they are open to being petted by strangers. Both the dog and the human will be happy to give their ears a good rub. Therapy dogs are well-trained and obedient, and they follow your instructions.

They can follow the lead and remain under the control of their handlers in any situation. They are also known for their obedience and good manners. Therapy dogs will not jump on people or wander off to find adventures. They are focused on their job which is to attend to their therapy visits.

Therapy Dogs: The History

Smoky the Yorkshire Terrier is known as the first therapy dog. Smoky belonged to Corporal Bill Wynne, who adopted her when she was found in a foxhole while he was in New Guinea. The Japanese were attacking the men at the Allied airfield at Lingayen Gulf on Luzon in the Philippine Islands. They needed to run a communication line through a 70-foot pipe that was eight inches in diameter and underground.

The owners coaxed Smoky by coaxing him to go through the trench. They cleverly tied the line to a string of kites and sent Smoky through it. Smoky did it, and was credited for saving the lives of approximately 250 men and 40 aircrafts that day.

Wynne adopted Smoky and he contracted dengue fever five days later. Smoky accompanied him and slept at his feet, delighting the nurses. The staff noticed that Smoky was lifting spirits of patients while she was in the hospital. Smoky entertained them with her tricks, her play and her chase of butterflies.

Wynne received word of her healing powers and was invited to take Smoky with him to the hospitals to care for the soldiers who were wounded or ill. In 1947, over 700 therapy dogs were being volunteered by civilians. Smoky died in her sleep in 1955 at the age 14 and retired. Her legacy was “an instrument for love.”

Therapy dogs can be found in many settings today. Therapy dogs can be found in hospitals, nursing homes, rehabilitation centers, daycare centers, and other settings where people have suffered trauma or a loss. We must not forget about the military service men and women who are involved in therapy dog projects as part of their reconnection back to civilian life.

Service dogs and therapy dogs are different. A service dog is trained to perform tasks or to assist people with disabilities. Service dogs are prohibited from being petted. Americans with Disabilities Act allows persons with disabilities the right to have their service dogs accompany them in public places to aid them being independent.

A therapy dog is a completely different breed from a service dog. Therapy dogs are volunteers. Therapy dogs are volunteers who provide psychological and physiological therapy to people other than their handlers. Therapy dogs can be petted and are able to socialize with strangers. They also provide comfort and companionship. A professional therapist will also use some of the therapy dogs in Animal Assisted Therapy.

Dog Therapy: The Science of Dog Therapy

Dogs can be highly effective therapists and science is discovering the emotional and physiological effects of their interventions. Studies of Animal Assisted Therapy have reliably demonstrated that persons experienced positive outcomes and improved emotional well-being.

These animals are mainly beneficial to people with autism, behavioral disorders or other medical conditions. People with schizophrenia, depression or addiction have also found help in animals. Spending time with an animal can be a healing experience.

Science can support this healing experience. Research on hormone changes in therapy sessions has shown that there are positive hormonal effects during interactions between humans and dogs. The love hormone, oxytocin, is associated with affection and bonding. When a dog is involved, the hormone oxytocin rises.

Petting a dog can reduce stress hormones, lower blood pressure, and improve breathing regulation. Dogs are capable of showing empathy, according to studies. They will comfort people in distress by nuzzling and going to their side.

Training your Therapy Dog

Dexter the dog walks on two feet after he was badly injured.
Dexter the dog walks on two feet after he was badly injured.

There are a number of organizations that will support owners in learning how to train their dogs to become therapy animals. The American Kennel Club started a program at the request of owners who wanted acknowledgment of the great work the dogs are doing. The organization offers therapy dog titles that build on animal skills for being good citizens and well socialized.

First, you must have a dog that is socially inclined to begin training your dog. A good foundation training is essential to teach your dog how to obey commands and how to interact with other people.

You may also want to consider a therapy dog class. You and your dog will practice social interaction with other dogs. Your dog will learn how to interact with others, how to allow petting and how to remain calm.

Therapy Dogs International, an organization that evaluates therapy dogs, will assess your dog’s readiness to be a therapy dog. These skills include allowing people to examine his body and paws, waiting for the handler to be out of sight, group sit/stay and group down/stay as well as visiting with patients by sitting down and allowing them to pet the dog.

How do you begin your training? Begin training your puppy as soon as possible! Start by looking at your dog’s behavior. You will need your dog to be calm and submissive, but not afraid. Begin your training by touching your dog. Play with your dog. Spend time with your dog and encourage them to have fun. Expose your dog to people in different situations to help him become more comfortable with people.

You should also provide basic training to your dog so that he can be controlled and learns good manners. These positive experiences will help you to develop compassion.

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