Giving back by giving you and your dog a greater purpose
We already know that our dogs make us feel good and make our lives more fulfilling, but did you know that their simple presence can help others in your community as well? Therapy dogs, like the more well-known service or working dogs, can provide astounding societal benefits, but unlike service animals, therapy dogs are still your pet at the end of the day. Interested? Here’s what you need to know.
The presence of therapy dogs in spaces like hospitals, schools, nursing homes, rehab centers, libraries, airports, and even courtrooms have been shown to lower things like blood pressure, heart rate, pain and anxiety levels, while also increasing serotonin, dopamine, and oxytocin to bring feelings of joy and relaxation. More and more places of taking advantage of the healing nature of therapy animals, so demand is currently on the rise.
Therapy dogs provide a calming and “normal” presence for those in stressful situations like hospital stays or chaotic airports, or they can be used as a specific part of someone’s rehabilitation like playing fetch to regain hand-eye coordination or encouraging communication in individuals with verbal issues and anxiety.
So what kind of dog can do therapy work?
There is certainly more flexibility in breed, size, and the rigor of training needed for a therapy vs. service dog, but that doesn’t mean that every dog is cut out to do it. They must be at least a year old, and generally older, calmer dogs tend to fare better. However, that doesn’t mean you should wait to begin training until later. Implementing training techniques and routines while they’re younger will greatly help any additional training needed in the future.
Dogs need to be calm, trained, highly socialized, healthy, well-groomed, have a friendly temperament, not be distracted by new sights, smells, and sounds, and be extremely comfortable with frequent interaction, particularly from those who may not be used to petting a dog gently, like small children.
Expose them as soon as possible to people in a wide variety of ages, appearances, and styles of dress, especially uniforms. But ease them into it and don’t overwhelm them. Just like people, some dogs will reach a sensory overload sooner than others and it can unfortunately have lasting effects if a dog feels traumatized at any point.
Some groups like the AKC, Alliance of Therapy Dogs, or Therapy Dogs International can provide further guidance and certification if your dog (and you) pass their exams and meet their requirements. Your skills as a handler will also be closely evaluated, so make sure you’re paying extra attention during your pup’s training courses.
Even a normally well-behaved and otherwise “good dog” might not be a candidate for therapy work, but you shouldn’t feel too disheartened if they ‘fail’ at first, the requirements are strict for a reason. Instead, if you are genuinely interested in pursuing therapy work with your pet these organizations will let you test again. Just be sure to spend at least a few months working on increasing their social skills, exposure to different people and places, and consider further obedience training courses to get them back on track.
If you and your dog want to help give back, but their manners need a boost, contact us and we’ll get their skills up to snuff.