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“certified therapy dog”

The Therapy Dogs Job – What does a Therapy Dog do?

Therapy dogs

Roles of a therapy dogs

Therapy dogs play important roles in the lives of individuals who are hospitalized, confined to retirement or nursing homes, in hospices and in schools far away from their homes and loved ones. These specially trained therapy dogs provide comfort and affection to people who are in these situations, and to those who have learning difficulties, and individuals who suffer from such psychological disorders as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and those who have survived stressful situations such as those who live in disaster areas.

Therapy dogs and breeds

There is no one particular breed of dog used as therapy dogs. They come in all breeds and sizes, but must be particularly capable of showing good temperament. Characteristics prized by trainers of therapy dogs are qualities of friendliness, patience, confidence, and the ability to remain calm and gentle. Dogs most often chosen to be therapy dogs are those that most enjoy human contact and that enjoy being handled and petted.

therapy dogs

“History of therapy dogs”

History of the Therapy Dog

The first noted therapy dog was a tiny, abandoned terrier named, Smoky, that was rescued by Corporal William Wynne during the second World War, while undergoing combat operations in New Guinea. The dog became Corporal Wynne’s constant companion and accompanied him on a number of dangerous combat missions. Smoky quickly became quite popular among the other soldiers and provided them with hours of entertainment and comfort.

Smoky’s designation as an official therapy dog started when the Corporal fell ill and his Army friends began to take Smoky to the hospital to cheer him up. Other soldiers who were confined to the hospital enjoyed the little dog, so the commanding officer of the hospital began to allow Smoky to go on rounds. Corporal Wynne was allowed to keep the dog in his hospital bed with him for almost a week, which brightened the Corporal’s spirits significantly. The doctors and hospital staff took note, and the little dog was used for a therapy dog for more than 12 years following this event.

Systematic approach to using therapy dogs

A systematic approach to using therapy dogs was started by a registered nurse in England, who noted the improved demeanors of patients who were allowed to have contact with dogs while confined in the hospital. In 1976, the nurse began an official training program for therapeutic dogs. The animals were specifically trained to visit hospitalized patients. Since that time, the demand for therapy dogs has grown exponentially. Today, the demand for therapeutic animals remains high and has spread beyond just dogs to other animals such as cats, rabbits and even small pigs.

Therapy Dog

Therapy Dog

Benefits of Therapy Dogs

Animal Assisted Therapy Dogs in Mental Health

In 2010, the SCAS Journal published an article entitled, “Animal Assisted Therapy in Mental Health” that suggested that patients who interact with therapy dogs can reach increased levels of oxytocin, which is associated with emotional bonding. The study conducted also suggested that therapy dogs could help increase levels of dopamine, which is a chemical produced by the brain that is associated with happiness, and that the use of therapy dogs can also lower the stress hormone, cortisol.

Therapy dogs in action

Therapy dogs can bring comfort and joy to the suffering, and can even be used to assist families with the grieving process after the loss of a loved one. The animals can help eliminate the adverse affects of loneliness and feelings of anxiety in the elderly, can bring comfort to hospitalized children or children who have lost their parents. They are used to help calm individuals who have lost their homes to disaster and bring joy to the lives of those who cannot leave their homes due to illness or injury.

Many colleges and universities utilize the services of therapy dogs to help students overcome the anxieties suffered by their students during exam time. Known as, “Therapy Fluffies,” the dogs were first introduced at the University of California in San Diego Office of Student Wellness in 2009. Since that time, the practice, founded by Torrey Trust, has expanded across the United States and into Canada.

therapy dog

Service dog

What is the difference between therapy dogs and service dogs ?

Therapy dogs serve different roles than assistance or service dogs. Service dogs are used for the blind and others who need physical assistance to function better because of a disability. These animals have a legal right to accompany the people they assist in most areas, and are legally protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. Therapy dogs, on the other hand, are not used to provide physical assistance to the disabled, and are not designated in the Americans with Disabilities Act.

It is not illegal for hospitals and other institutions to limit or prohibit therapy dogs from accessing their patients. However they may allow them, if policy permits. Those institutions that do allow the animals usually have strict requirements that must be met by the animals and their trainers before they are allowed onto the property and to have contact with patients.

therapy dog

“Training therapy dogs”

Therapy Dog Training

While many different breeds of dogs are used as therapy dogs, not all dogs are well suited for this type of vocation. Trainers know to look for dogs that are naturally gentle and tolerant of other animals. The ideal therapy dog will be obedient, and show the ability to be affectionate toward strangers, and especially children and the elderly. Dogs that are nervous or that have ill temperaments are not appropriate for use as therapy dogs and could prove to be liabilities.

After the age of one year, therapy dogs undergo a rigorous training period by specially instructed trainers, in which the dog is tested for tolerance, good temperament, obedience and other qualities that are desirable in dogs used for therapeutic purposes. Once the training has been completed, an organization called, “Therapy Dogs International” (TDI) administers tests and evaluates each animal before registering it as an official therapy dog. There are other organizations, as well, that specialize in certifying and training therapy dogs, such as Bright and Beautiful Therapy Dogs, Inc.

Where to Find Therapy Dogs

Therapy Dogs International (TDI) or Bright and Beautiful Therapy Dogs, and other similar organizations can provide information about where one can find a suitable therapy dog. Sometimes, hospitals, nursing homes and schools have access to listings for therapy dogs in one’s particular area, and can help provide one with the information needed to become part of a therapy dog program. Veterinarians are also another source of information about where to find therapy dogs, as are various therapists and doctors.

There are many different dog therapy organizations listed on the Internet. Contacting one in a particular area may lead to a rewarding relationship between a loving animal and someone who can benefit tremendously from having contact with a therapy dog.