Dog therapy is a way of connecting with patients, even despondent ones, through the unique bond that exists between people and canines. It is sometimes difficult to reach a person who is rehabilitating from an illness or injury. The recovery process can be painful and slow, and patients may lose hope or motivation to do the necessary work.
Patients enjoy and are motivated by the instantaneous positive reactions of the four legged helpers in dog therapy. Some dogs and patients work together within a curriculum that addresses the patients’ specific problems. Other dogs work patient rooms “free style.”
Therapy dogs live at home with the human(s) who trained them. Each dog has to pass a rigorous obedience and temperament test to prove they can work with people, other dogs, and stay cool during problematic situations. The dogs must become accustomed to wheelchairs, crutches, and hospital beds.
Specifically, in Dog Therapy, Therapy Dogs Must:
- be at least one year old, clean and well groomed
- listen to their human handlers
- walk on a leash without pulling
- not jump on people when they interact
- stay calm for petting and allow strangers to touch them
- be OK with odd smells and noises
- be OK with people who have an unsteady gait
- have the necessary vaccines and an annual negative fecal test
The dogs visit hospitals, schools, nursing homes, special needs centers, and mental health agencies. A therapy dog is not considered a service dog. They do not have the access rights that service dogs are granted. Any breed, or breed mix, is eligible for dog therapy certification.
One study revealed that hospitalized people experience less loneliness with just one half hour dog visit per week.* Nurses frequently report patients having a drop in heart rate and blood pressure after canine visits. Many of those that look forward to dog therapy sessions were once pet owners and enjoy re-experiencing the unconditional affection the animals provide.*Journal of Gerontology: Medical Sciences, Marian R. Banks, July 2010