All about therapy dogs
More and more therapist, doctors and mental health professionals are becoming aware of the wonderful therapeutic benefits of involving dogs in patient recovery. Dogs are used with brain injury patients, elderly, physically impaired as well as patients in hospitals and treatment centers. The very nature of a dog, its loyalty, unconditional love and its pure joy at seeing a friend really make them a wonderful asset to any therapy program.
Therapy that involves dogs, known as Animal-Assisted therapy, is used in many different settings in several different countries. The dogs can be involved in helping with fine motor control as the patients move their arms and fingers to pet and brush the dogs as part of their therapy process. Large muscle therapy is also completed when the patients take the dogs for walks or on outings to parks and recreational areas.
Dogs can also be used as a friend for many patients. Elderly, shut in and isolated patients come to see visits from their therapist and their dog as a chance to interact with another living thing. Dogs are very non-judgmental and are always happy to see the patient, which is very positive for the patient both emotionally and socially.
There is little hard scientific evidence as to how or why dog therapy works so well with many patients. Many therapists believe that the unconditional love of the dog helps patients gain self-confidence and self-esteem. There is another school of thought that caring for or spending time with a dog something that often brings patients back to their childhood or to a more positive time in their life. Regardless of exactly how or why dog therapy works so well with patients is not as important as the fact that it really does work.
Therapy dogs are not a specific breed or type of dog, nor do they have to a certain age or size. Usually therapy dogs are medium to large sized dogs but there are many small dogs that make excellent therapy dogs. Many organizations that use therapy dogs have volunteer owners and dogs come to the hospital or care facility and work in conjunction with the health care professionals and trained therapists on staff.
Therapy dogs must be very calm and well behaved. They should have no history of any kind of aggression or lack of obedience in new or unfamiliar settings. The dogs should be very well socialized and should not be prone to barking or whining as this can be disturbing to the clients as well as other patients in the facility.
Most therapists require that the therapy dogs do through special obedience and possibly other training. The dogs are taken in and out of the facility many times before they actually start working with the patients and clients. In addition both the owner and the facility will need to carry special insurance on the therapy dog to cover any possible events.
If you have a dog that loves people, is very calm and relaxed even in new situations, has lots of patience and is very obedient you may want to volunteer with a dog therapy service. The Internet is a great place to start your search for agencies, or contact your local hospital or long-term care facility to find if dog therapy is being used in your area.