HOW CAN THERAPY DOGS CHANGE PEOPLE’S LIVES?
Pet therapy centers are springing up all over the country these days, as more and more people are beginning to realize the highly therapeutic effect that pets can have on humans. Building on knowledge learned about how dogs can help humans recover from feelings of stress, anxiety, loneliness, depression, and low self-esteem, these centers are being established for the purpose of providing that kind of assistance to humans who have been diagnosed with those particular issues. Often working with medical specialists, these therapy dogs are matched with human counterparts in need of companionship, to help them cope with their particular mental or emotional issues.
The Physical Aspect of Therapy Dogs
The benefits received by the human partner don’t end with mere companionship, however. In addition to the emotional and mental support provided by therapy dogs, there can be a physical component which is just as important to the relationship.
In the same way that studies have borne out the emotional benefits of pet companionship, similar studies have demonstrated that having a regular pet companion can contribute a great deal to the physical aspect of a person’s life. Numerous studies have shown that the majority of people who have pet companions are more active, because they take them for walks at least once a day and usually more, and they engage in other activities like play time with them.
The increased activity, in turn, is a great exercise that triggers the release of endorphins, which are the feel-good hormones in the body, responsible for improving mood and making people feel better. In the same way, petting and stroking a dog’ fur is also therapeutic, in that it soothes and relaxes, and at the same time tends to shift a person’s focus away from themselves onto their pet companion. This is ideal for patients with mental issues because at least temporarily, it allows them to forget about their own problems, and project outwardly with another creature.
Dog Therapy Certification
Of course, all these benefits provided by therapy dogs are not quite left to chance, in the hope that any given dog will prove to be a suitable companion for a person troubled by mental issues. There are centers around the country which have been implemented for the purpose of selecting dogs with the right characteristics to become therapy dogs, and these dogs are then put through a program to learn skills which will enhance their already suitable nature for this kind of work.
Many dogs which have been rescued from less than ideal home situations, or which have been abandoned, are considered for inclusion in the program, provided they demonstrate the qualities deemed desirable as therapy dogs. The organizations which seek out these candidates, look for qualities in a dog such as being fun-loving, devoted to a master, active and playful, and with no trace of meanness or aggression.
Once a dog has been identified as being suitable for the program, they are put through a series of courses designed to improve on these qualities and to help them respond better to human instruction and commands. Dogs which successfully complete the course are then certified as therapy dogs and are made available to medical professionals who are aware of the program, and understand what can be accomplished with human patients in need of this kind of companionship.
Other Uses for Therapy Dogs
The scenario described above is not the only way that therapy dogs can provide tremendous value to persons in need of their friendship. Some owners of therapy dogs contribute their time and their pet’s time in situations where they can provide benefits over a short period of time, in settings like nursing homes, hospitals, and schools.
This, of course, is not usually an ongoing benefit to the people in those institutions, but even a relatively brief exposure to therapy dogs can literally light up a person’s day and improve their attitude noticeably.
It should be noted that therapy dogs are not the same thing as service dogs, because service dogs actually are given special training that helps them perform pre-defined tasks for persons who are in some way disabled. A good example of a service dog is one who has been trained to lead a blind person safely through social situations without harm.
This type of dog would be one which stays indefinitely with its master so as to provide ongoing service in that same specialty. While therapy dogs do undergo training, it is not specialized training to benefit someone who is disabled, but the training is instead more focused on providing companionship and affection on a more limited basis.
Those dogs which been certified for this kind of service receive a title of AKC Therapy Dog, but they do not have the same status as service dogs, which are allowed on planes, in grocery stores, and other settings where ordinary pets would not be allowed. This is because service dogs are necessary at all times for a disabled person, regardless of wherever they happen to be. The same cannot be said of therapy dogs, even though their companionship is very often considered essential by a partner.