In the long history of human civilization, dogs have had a significant impact on our development. These animals changed the way we hunted and protected ourselves and have become a part of the family.
The joy that dogs bring is simply unmatched—they are so easy to get along with and don’t have the same complications involved in human relationships. It’s no wonder that dogs have become more than pets, with some owners regarding these furry canine companions as family members, showering them with so much love and affection.
The effect that these dogs have on our lives and emotions are so positive that it has been harnessed for medical purposes. Today, therapy dogs are used to treat different psychological conditions, such as loss, depression, anxiety, mood swings, and disabilities. It is a type of therapy that has shown excellent results.
What’s a therapy dog?
If your dog provides any emotional or psychological support to you, it qualifies to be called a therapy dog. The definition is broad, however. It would make every dog a therapy dog if left undefined since most people get a pet to fulfill some emotional or psychological needs.
Therapy dogs are specifically used in the treatment of mental or psychological conditions. Mental health practitioners prescribe these animals as a means of managing the patient’s problems.
Therapy dogs have found a variety of uses – including in nursing homes, hospice care, and rehabilitation centers – as a method of dealing with loneliness and depression. In the case of a loss, one of the best ways to bounce back and heal faster is to get a therapy dog—they are great for both children and adults, assisting with all kinds of emotional trauma.
When it comes to therapy dogs, these animals can be categorized into three primary groups:
1. Animal Assisted Therapy Dog
This type of therapy dog is usually found within rehabilitation clinics. Physiotherapists use these companions to help patients regain motor skills through several types of training activities.
2. Facility Therapy dogs
Nursing homes make use of therapy dogs to alert staff whenever there is a problem with any of their patients. They are excellent companions for the elderly in the facility where many of the patients don’t have relatives or friends coming in regularly from outside.
3. Therapeutic Visitation Dogs
These are the most common types of therapy dogs. Therapeutic visitation dogs visit mental care facilities, other hospitals, and private homes to provide lonely and depressed patients with company and friendship. Such visits give patients a sense of hope as they recover.
What’s required of a therapy dog?
When you use a general definition, all dogs qualify to be therapy dogs. Therapy dogs have specific characteristics that set them apart, though.
Therapy dogs are usually reserved for rehabilitation and healthcare patients. Although individuals own therapy dogs, these typically undergo tests to determine whether they are an excellent companion for a patient. Registering these animals as a therapy dog requires the following credentials:
This is one of the most crucial elements of therapy—it shouldn’t shed its coat excessively. Not only is it a risk for allergic patients, but also for a hospital or healthcare facility setting. A therapy dog is meant to bring peace and joy to the patients, not further health complications.
Therapy dogs need to adapt to different environments quickly. Patients may be in tiny spaces or noisy environments, and therapy needs to work under these conditions without compromising the benefits. A dog that doesn’t adapt fast enough may become aggressive or extremely shy in uncomfortable situations.
Working with different patients requires a therapy dog with a great personality. It should be well-behaved in all situations. Therapy dogs should be comfortable being petted by strangers without getting stressed or becoming aggressive, and it should never harm a patient.
Therapy dogs need to be extremely social. During a visit to a health facility, they’ll need to play with different patients since they are meant to bring joy and comfort to patients. In specific settings, though, an overly excited dog becomes a complicated problem, especially towards the elderly or injured patients.
Getting a therapy dog
There are a few steps needed to own a therapy dog. The process includes adoption, training, and registering the animal with official therapy dog organizations.
One of the best therapy dog organizations is http://www.usserviceanimal.org
Before you adopt a dog for therapy, do a background check on the best breeds for the job. Different dog breeds have different requirements, inherent temperaments, among other factors.
Certain dogs are highly recommended, such as poodles and golden retrievers. When you are adopting the dog, you should specify the purpose of therapy before you finalize which breed you select. You can consult a professional dog trainer on the breeds that are easy to train and more social, for example.
In exceptional cases, a dog’s breed doesn’t indicate the right temperament of a dog. Some dogs that are known to be aggressive, such as rottweilers, maybe be more suited for the job than a traditional golden retriever. Thoroughly test your dog’s behavior before going home with it and choosing it to be a therapy dog.
While it’s true that training a puppy is much easier than an adult dog, it doesn’t mean that you can’t adopt an adult dog and still use it for therapy purposes. One of the best places to find therapy adult dogs (aside from breeders) is a dog shelter.
When you finally settle on a dog for adoption, make sure you spend some time getting to know it. You will quickly be able to tell how well the animal will get along with patients.
The next step after settling on the dog breed and the dog is training. It is possible to train your dog all by yourself, but when it comes to therapy dogs, it is better to leave it to the professionals.
Find someone that has experience handling and training dogs that are meant for therapy. It is faster, and the results are always positive.
There are a few warning signs when you are registering your dog for therapy. Therapy dogs should not be jumpy, should not love to chew things, or bark all the time. If you can get your dog trainer to work on these traits, you shouldn’t have any problems registering your dog as a therapy dog.
Your dog should also not be too shy or dislike getting close to people.
If you want your dog to qualify, these are some of the traits a registration organization will consider:
Once your dog is done with training, you will need to register it before you can enlist it as a therapy animal.
There aren’t a lot of therapy registration organizations that accept dogs less than one year’s old. Your dog will also need to have received all the vaccines, plus a full medical history from your local vet detailing the dog’s age and condition.
Many dogs fail the therapy certification because they are taken out of training too soon. If your dog fails the first time, you can take it back to training later, re-sitting the certification exam when they are ready.
Most people assume that only the dog will be subjected to the test. As the dog handler, you will also undergo some tests too. The organization will test how well the dog responds to your commands, and you will be tested on how well you handle your dog during a therapy session.
One of the tests that the American Kennels Club (AKC) prefers for your dog before registration is the Canine Good Citizen test. It checks different situations that your dog will be put through daily, such as walking through a crowded street, being petted by a stranger, the behavior when undergoing physical examination by a vet or stranger – among other situations.
After receiving your certification, it’s good practice to test the behavior of your dog in the presence of your friends and family. It will ensure your dog builds confidence around strangers before going to a therapy session.
Benefits of having a therapy dog
A therapy dog is a useful asset. There are plenty of benefits to being around one of these beautiful creatures. The most obvious benefit is anxiety relief.
Being around a therapy dog will make you feel good, and you won’t be subject to the complications that stressed people experience without a support animal.
Some of the key benefits of a therapy dog include:
- Help for dementia patients
- Relief of anxiety
- Improved socialization
- Decreased blood pressure
Owning a therapy dog does impact not only the lives of the patients you visit, but also your own. The satisfaction you enjoy seeing the change in a person’s life as a result of your efforts and your dog’s companionship is unmatched. You will also benefit from a more stress-free life.
Do you want to own a therapy dog? Get in touch with http://usserviceanimal.org today to begin the process of registering your therapy dog.
Registration is simple, so call us today.