A therapy dog is a dog trained to provide emotional and physical support to improve individuals’ overall well-being. However, very much alike, therapy dogs and service dogs are different. The latter are trained to assist people with disabilities in household chores.
Considering the myriad of benefits therapy dogs provide, hospitals, nursing homes, and patient advocacy groups started involving them in various treatments to speed up the healing process.
What Does It Take to Be a Therapy Dog?
Potential therapy dogs undergo intense training with professionals and therapy dog institutions. Their training involves socializing with other puppies, people, and objects, walking on a loose leash, and putting them in different scenarios in the real world. This helps them achieve physical calmness, balance, patience, and intelligence. Once they pass the training, they will be given a certificate and officially registered as a therapy dog.
Can Therapy Dogs Impose Health Risks?
Before therapy dogs visit hospitals, schools, and retirement homes, they undergo various health procedures such as parvo and anti-rabies vaccination, heartworm examination, and series of distemper treatment. To prevent potential drawbacks and health problems to patients, they maintain cleanliness and sanitation standards.
Here are some advantages of having a therapy dog:
1. Offers mental health benefits
Studies show that therapy dogs have positive effects on patients battling depression and anxiety. They are capable of providing emotional support that can help improve an individual’s psychological condition. That is why it is recommended to involve them in treatments for people suffering from trauma and chronic stress.
2. Elevates mood
Therapy dogs can sense if a person is depressed or going through stressful situations. And they will try to cheer them up by showering them with affection or playing with them. In fact, looking at a dog’s eyes alone can trigger the release of a happy chemical, dopamine, which boosts a patient’s moods.
3. Relieves tension at the airport
Some people who have traumatic experiences associated with flights might find it daunting to ride an airplane. Having a therapy dog by their side can keep them engaged and less anxious while waiting for their flight.
4. Regulates emotion
Therapy dogs are trained to be attentive to individuals’ emotional needs, enabling them to stabilize people’s feelings, preventing emotional breakdowns. That is why they make an excellent companion for people prone to mood swings and suffering from traumatic experiences.
5. Provides social support
For some people, social interaction doesn’t come naturally. Some isolate themselves and avoid any form of socialization, making them feel left out.
Therapy dogs can make an excellent option. They can help such individuals feel connected, loved, and valued. Thus, creating a sense of belonging and improving quality of life.
6. Help children with autism
Children with autism are prone to intense emotions and unpredictable behaviors. And going to school might be challenging for them due to social challenges and peer pressure. Having therapy dogs inside the classroom helps them feel more at ease. Research shows that playing with them has therapeutic effects on children with special conditions. Their calm and compassionate nature can prevent compulsive behavior.
7. Reduce school pressures
Exams, projects, and deadlines can cause pressure on college students. Having a therapy dog is said to relieve stress and tension. At Yale University, Lillian Goldman Law Library started gaining popularity after allowing therapy dogs in their law school library.
Attending law involves a lot of reading and memorizing the constitution, which can be stressful. Therapy dogs can help law students adapt to different learning styles and teaching methods. Students living away from home might also find therapy dogs beneficial; they can reduce homesickness and loneliness.
8. Helps cope with the loss of loved ones
Grieving can be a long process for some people. By providing comfort and affection, therapy dogs can relieve pain and sorrow. Those people who prefer not to socialize after a tragic experience might find comfort in a pet’s touch. In general, therapy dogs can provide an extra layer of support to people who are dealing with tragic situations.
Besides that, therapy dogs are also said to improve heart rate, blood pressure, and cognitive functions.
Should You Get a Therapy Dog?
Indeed, a therapy dog can bring joy, comfort, and a sense of relief to people, particularly those who have medical conditions and emotional disorders. They can be any breed such as Labradors, golden retrievers, German shepherds, and shih tzus. By consulting a reputable pet therapy organization, you can find a compatible therapy dog for you.