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Benefits of a Therapy Dog | How They Are Different From An ESA

By USSA

Therapy Dog

There seem to be so many different variations of specialized animals these days and it can make it hard to keep track of which one is classified as what. For example, therapy dogs, emotional support dogs, and service dogs are considered one and the same sometimes, but they are all very different.

When you think of a therapy dog you should think of animals that are trained to bring out the best in people. Therapy dog’s main roles are to provide comfort and affection. They most commonly make appearances in hospitals, nursing homes, or schools. Those in nursing homes may not receive that level of affection that they would hope for. Often times those in nursing homes have very few visitors and that is where a therapy dog comes in, providing companionship for elders who may feel lonely.

These animals are not specially trained to complete tasks for people like service animals, but they are trained to brighten lives with their cuddles. The fact is that it is hard to resist smiling when seeing a fun dog that is as happy to see you as you are to see it.

There are many benefits to owning or being around a therapy dog, and it can make life much easier at times where the possibility of stress is at its highest. Whether you are looking to own a therapy dog, register your pet as a therapy dog or just want to learn more about what they are, the following information should give you a good idea as to what they are and how they are beneficial.

How a Dog Becomes a Therapy Dog

Any breed of dog can become a therapy dog. The only requirement is that the dog is friendly and can be trained to take direction and provide comfort. A dog cannot begin his or her career as a therapy dog until they reach the age of one, but training likely starts at a very young age.

There are not special circumstances for therapy dogs to make appearances. In places that animals are not permitted, your therapy dog is also not allowed. This is a different aspect from emotional support animals and service animals because they are typically allowed in most public places free of charge. There really aren’t any special treatments designated for therapy dogs. If a hotel doesn’t allow animals, yours is not allowed, and the same thing goes for housing and airlines.

The path to becoming a therapy dog is much simpler than the path to becoming a service animal or emotional support animal. As long as the dog is comforting and not aggressive, they are likely a good candidate. Although the path to having your pet become a therapy dog is much easier, he or she is not granted the same benefits as a service animal or ESA. Therapy dogs - which are considered pets - may be denied by apartment complexes and landlords who have a pet policy in place. However, therapy dogs are great to have around, especially if you or someone you know is going through a stressful time in their life and can use a pick me up from a vibrant, happy dog.

ESA vs Therapy Dog

It is important to have a clear understanding of the differences between an emotional support animal(ESA) and a therapy dog in order to determine which one is most appropriate for you.

The biggest difference between an emotional support animal and a therapy dog is that an ESA is declared to be beneficial to an individual by a medical professional. Emotional support animals are typically utilized for those with mental health conditions or anxiety disorders. Therefore, if you are looking for an animal to provide comfort and support for a mental health concern, then a therapy dog might not be enough and registering your dog as an emotional support animal is likely a better solution. On the other hand, anyone who is just looking for a friendly dog that provides stress relief after a long, hard day may be better suited to a trained therapy dog.

Register Your Pet As An Emotional Support Animal

With that said, an emotional support animal and a therapy dog might sound quite similar, and you would be right in thinking so. The role of an emotional support animal and a therapy dog is close to the same - although one of the differences to highlight is an ESA is often more closely attached to an individual person. Perhaps the main difference between the two, however, comes in the benefits the dog receives. An emotional support animal is protected under the Fair Housing Act and allowed on airlines, whereas a therapy dog is seen more or less as a pet and may not be granted many of the same luxuries.

Benefits of a Therapy Dog

There are many benefits of having a therapy dog around. Whether you have one around your home full time or come into encounter with one while at places such as the hospital, there is no doubt they can have a positive impact on one’s health and well-being. Although the benefits vary from person-to-person, some of the more common benefits of therapy dogs include but are not limited to the following:

  • Anxiety relief
  • Reduce blood pressure
  • Helps with socialization
  • Aids dementia patients

The first and most obvious benefit to note is anxiety relief. The fact is life is stressful, regardless of who you are. When life becomes overwhelming, it can be nice to have a friendly therapy dog around to help reduce anxiety. For those who struggle with chronic anxiety and are stressed seemingly every day, therapy dogs can help reduce stress long-term. For those who are in stressful situations - such as being in the hospital - having a therapy dog around can make life much easier.

In addition to stress management - which can also help reduce blood pressure - therapy dogs also can help with socialization, particularly with children who may have trouble interacting with others. A therapy dog can lift the spirits of a child who has trouble socializing and get them to be more comfortable when interacting with peers at school, during sports, etc. Last but not least, many dementia patients have found success with therapy dogs, and they can improve the quality of life of the elderly in general. In fact, many therapy dogs are trained to do small tasks such as fetching things around the room and helping out in any way they can, which makes them the perfect pet for elderly who may not move as well around the house or have a lack of energy.

The Bottom Line

The bottom line is that a well-behaved and well-mannered dog who thoroughly enjoys being around other people can become a therapy dog. If you are unsure if your dog qualifies there are certain institutions that you can take your dog to be evaluated. These evaluations usually just include checking your dog’s demeanor, handling skills, and manners. If successful, your dog can be on its way to providing endless cheer to those in need.

It is amazing the impact a simple animal interaction can make on someone’s well-being and mental health. Cuddles of any kind go a long way and the love and affection of a well-trained animal is priceless