As dog lovers, we all know the transformative power of a dog’s love. Affection from our happy dogs can lift our spirits, warm our hearts, and bring insurmountable joy to our lives. In fact, research has shown that dogs can have positive effects on our mental health and emotional well-being.
With this in mind, it’s no surprise that people and organizations have begun employing therapy dogs to support individuals through a variety of difficult circumstances. In celebration of National Animal Therapy Animal Day, we wanted to honor some of the incredible ways that therapy dogs support people as well as highlight some incredible pets.
Read on to learn what a therapy dog is and the amazing contributions therapy dogs make to help people!
Therapy dogs are calm, well-behaved, and well-trained dogs that provide companionships, emotional support, and sometimes physical support, to individuals. Therapy dogs are often family pets who volunteer as therapy dogs under the guidance of their handlers.
Most therapy dogs do not require certifications to offer support but many handlers choose to have their dogs certified by the Alliance of Therapy Dogs. This makes it much easier for these pups to secure volunteer opportunities. Some therapy dogs are certified as Emotional Support Animals and provide specific types of therapy.
Service dogs are trained to perform a specific task that supports their handler. For instance, seeing-eye dogs and medical alert dogs are service dogs because they have been trained to assist their handlers in those specific ways. Service dogs have special legal standing which allows them to be admitted anywhere their handler may go, even if dogs are not usually allowed to enter.
In contrast, therapy dogs usually aren’t trained to perform a specific task. In fact, therapy dogs most commonly assist individuals simply through companionship. Therapy dogs do not have the same legal standing as service dogs and cannot necessarily accompany their handlers everywhere.
Now that we’re clear on what a Therapy dog is, let’s learn about the different ways they can help people!
Therapeutic visitation dogs visit individuals in places like hospitals, long-term living facilities, and hospices. Their mission is to provide companionship and put smiles on the faces of individuals with serious illnesses. Of course, a dog can’t cure an illness, but they do offer a morale boost to individuals who are sick. Therapeutic visitation dogs also offer emotional support to the families of individuals in these facilities. It can be difficult to see a loved one sick or dying but dogs have a way of comforting us during difficult times.
Therapeutic Visitation Dogs usually volunteer with non-profit organizations that work in conjunction with healthcare facilities. However, sometimes these dogs work outside of healthcare settings. You may encounter Therapeutic Visitation Dogs in airports, on college campuses, or even in work offices.
Sometimes referenced as Pet-assisted Therapy, this is a practice that uses animals (in this case, dogs) to provide support for individuals with mental or physical illnesses.
Studies have shown that having a dog present can be emotionally comforting, reduce stress, improve communication, and even increase the self-worth of individuals struggling with illness. Sometimes this type of therapy involves having a therapy dog visit patients who are housed in a treatment facility. Other times, the therapy dog may live with the individual who needs support.
Animal Assisted Therapy typically takes place under the directive of a Social Worker or Psychotherapist. Dogs who work in Animal Assisted Therapy settings are often certified Emotional Support Animals who have been trained to support individuals with specific problems, for instance, PTSD or panic disorders.
Facility therapy dogs are trained to offer support and companionship within certain facilities. These dogs still work with handlers but they are conditioned to support individuals through programs specific to the facility where they work.
Common places that make use of facility therapy dogs include skilled nursing facilities, psychiatric programs, and special education programs, among others. A facility therapy dog provides support and comfort to individuals within these settings.
Unlike therapeutic visitation dogs, the facility dog is consistently present for the individuals receiving treatment at the facility. This enables them to form a bond with the dog and can help improve their self-confidence and communication and reduce stress and anxiety. Facility therapy dogs can even help distract people from physical pain they are feeling.