Therapy dogs are dogs that are canine good citizens and are well trained and of a nature that is suitable for interaction with humans who are unwell. Studies have shown that interaction with pets and the special bonding it brings, helps the sick heal faster and trauma patients are known to come out of silence, grieving, or shock by interacting with pets.
An innovative program set up by Therapy Dogs International is “children reading to dogs.” Handlers and their dogs visit libraries and schools regularly and interact with children who have trouble reading. The dogs make friends with children who are encouraged to read the dog a story. The friendship and bonding between the child and dog as well as the non judgmental attitude of the happy animal encourages the child to read aloud to the dog who sits with a smile on his face and a wag in his tail. The interaction instills confidence in the child as well as improved learning.
Therapy dogs also provide valuable relief during disasters by helping affected families and persons as also relief workers. The animals provide comfort and an understanding that is invaluable in sad situations. Petting and hugging or grooming the dogs provides release of anxiety and stress. Dogs help heal and overcome problems and grief. It is unbelievable the kind of understanding a dog can show. So, dogs regularly work at bombing sites, earthquake affected areas as well as places whether flood or hurricanes have struck.
There are therapy dogs who regularly visit hospitals, old age homes, and nursing homes to help heal. The interaction with dogs brings a smile to face of patients and many dogs participate in physical therapy programs as well as in children’s wards where there are many children fighting illnesses. The dogs instill a positive attitude in patients and many look forward to the visit each day. Patients are encouraged to talk to the dogs, pet them, or even groom them. Bonding with the dogs speeds up healing and brings happiness. Many of the dogs are natural clowns and perform tricks to entertain the sick.
To be a therapy dog, both the handler and dog have to undergo special training, be of good health, be well groomed, and be dedicated to the cause. The dog must have a clear health certification and not be shedding his coat or have any allergies. The dog needs to be calm and obedient as he will have to take hospital activities and noise in his stride. The handler will need to devote time in training the dog, enjoy the work, and take insurance against unforeseen accidents. Owners interested in pet-therapy work will need to register with a group in the area where they live and find out from their dog club or trainer whether the dog they have is of a suitable nature and breed to be a good and successful therapy dog.
Therapy dogs show great patience, love, and understanding and the interaction is magical as even terminally ill patients are known to get better. Dogs boost morale, provide affiliation and touch, encourage love and communication, stimulate activity and exercise, help patients deal with depression, loss, and grief, and lower hypertension as well as blood sugar levels.