Canines have jobs from guiding the blind to the K9 force. Today, we are highlighting therapy dogs and the wonderful work they do for humans by answering some common questions.
What is a therapy dog?
According to the American Kennel Club, these dogs volunteer with their owners in schools, hospitals, and nursing homes to improve the lives of others.
A therapy dog is not an emotional support animal. An ESA is prescribed by a mental health professional to a patient needing assistance to evade episodes.
Therapy dogs are not service animals, who train to perform specific tasks for the disabled. Both types of dogs go through a lot of training, but therapy dogs are more focused on being socially adjustable to different types of people.
What is the job of a therapy dog?
There are different types of roles for these dogs. First, there is a therapeutic visitation dog. They have a household and go out with their owners to a facility, e.g. a hospital or rehabilitation center, and the dogs help motivate the patients, who are stuck away from home.
Therapy dogs are also animal-assisted therapy dogs. Typically in rehabilitation centers, this role includes helping physical and occupational therapists by working with the patient to gain motion control or hand-eye coordination.
There are also facility therapy dogs. They live in a facility such as a nursing home, are handled by trained staff, and can help residents with Alzheimer’s or other mental health complications.
How do therapy dogs help us?
Studies, such as from the University of California – Los Angles, conducted by discovered just petting an animal releases a relaxation process in the body. The dogs can cause a release of Phenylethylamine, same chemical triggered by eating chocolate.
For mental health, animal-assisted therapy can also help break the ice in a session, can increase mental stimulation by recalling memories for Alzheimer’s patients, decrease anxiety, and reduce loneliness.
Therapy dogs can also physically affect patients by helping to lower their blood pressure, helping patients breathe more slowly, and minimizing physical pain by providing relaxation during exercises. People with autism can also bond and feel they have better social interaction with therapy dogs.
Do therapy dogs retire?
Retirement can happen when one of two things happen. First, the loss of human or human health problems; the dogs could be re-homed, but the relationship between the handler and the dog is strong and usually means retirement for the dog. Other reasons include the dog aging, losing motor control, having health problems, or even a decrease in willingness to serve.
Thankfully, there are several options for retired therapy dogs. They can become the family’s pet, be adopted by another family, or be fostered.
How do we support therapy dogs?
One way you can support therapy dogs is to become a retired dog foster. Many rescue organizations, such as Little Angel’s Service Dogs, Guide Dogs of Texas, and Alliance of Therapy Dogs, search for good homes or provide support for therapy dogs and other service dogs. If this is your choice, make sure to do your research and ask about what the dog will need from you.
If foster or adopting is not possible, you could also make monetary donations to these organizations to continue the programs or even make supply donations. You can also volunteer your time and donate services. Make sure to check over the organization and read over any requirements they may have before committing.
You and your dog can also train to become part of the therapy dog programs. Some organizations will require your dog to pass the Canine Good Citizen test before moving on to further training. As always, do your research into the requirements and make sure you’re up to the commitment.