How Therapy Dogs Can Improve Well-Being

therapy-dogs-0527137Talk to any pet lover and he or she will tell you that pets make life richer and better. But pets aren’t just a source of fun and an occasional source of extra work. Animals can play important roles in helping people recover from illness, making medical visits less stressful, and relieving social isolation. Although a wide variety of animals have been used in therapeutic settings, therapy dogs are the most popular option, and there’s strong evidence that a therapy dog can make a huge difference in a person’s quality of life.

What Are Therapy Dogs?

A therapy dog is any dog used in a therapeutic setting to improve treatment outcomes. Some are trained to complete specific tasks, while others are just well-behaved dogs. There’s no specific breed, size, or age requirement for a dog to become a therapy dog. Some are raised and specifically trained to provide therapeutic services, while others are just pets visiting a nursing home or rehabilitation center over the weekend.

What Do They Do?

Therapy dogs are hugely diverse and can fill a wide variety of functions. Some visit people living in nursing homes and respite facilities, providing companionship and a brief opportunity to pet an animal. Others work with children in crisis. For example, some child-abuse centers provide a chance for children to talk to therapy dogs, rather than people, about their abuse. Some prisons have established therapeutic pet-ownership programs in which a prisoner cares for an abandoned or unwanted dog or puppy. Some dogs are highly trained and work as seizure-alert dogs for people with epilepsy or as assistance dogs for people with sensory limitations. Dogs also have been used to help war veterans experiencing posttraumatic stress and other issues. These dogs sometimes undergo years of training before they’re placed with an owner.

What Are the Benefits?

Dogs have a soothing effect on people. The simple act of petting a dog can ease symptoms of depression and anxiety. The benefits of therapy dogs are overwhelming, and include:

  • Increasing independence
  • Decreasing symptoms of anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues
  • Reducing stress
  • Improving physical health
  • Providing companionship for lonely or isolated people
  • Providing a safe opportunity for people—particularly children—to talk about uncomfortable topics
  • Providing comfort to people who are anxious about receiving medical care

Can Your Dog Be a Therapy Dog?

There are several organizations that certify dogs as therapy dogs, but not all dogs are certified. Some nursing homes, for example, recruit owners of well-behaved dogs to bring their dogs in a few times a week or month. In most cases, though, your dog will need to pass a temperament test and show no signs of aggression or fear toward people or other animals. Some dogs may need more intense training. For example, therapy dogs that work with children might have to learn how to tolerate being hugged tightly and master the art of not jumping on a rambunctious child.

Guide dogs usually undergo a year or two of training before moving in with a permanent owner. Several organizations recruit families who are willing to put in the time and effort to train a guide dog. However, they have to give up the dog when it’s time for him or her to move in with a permanent owner.

References:

  1. Getting started. (n.d.). Therapy Dogs International. Retrieved from http://www.tdi-dog.org/About.aspx?Page=Getting+Started
  2. Perceptions of the impact of pet therapy on residents/patients and staff in facilities visited by therapy dogs [PDF]. (n.d.). Flanders: Therapy Dogs International.
  3. Walsh, P. G., & Mertin, P. G. (1994). The Training of Pets as Therapy Dogs in a Women’s Prison: A Pilot Study. Anthrozoos: A Multidisciplinary Journal of The Interactions of People & Animals7(2), 124-128. doi: 10.2752/089279394787002014
  4. What is a therapy dog? (n.d.). Therapy Dogs of Vermont. Retrieved from http://www.therapydogs.org/index.php?option=com_content

© Copyright 2013 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved.

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

  • 12 comments
  • Leave a Comment
  • Perry

    Perry

    May 27th, 2013 at 2:22 PM

    Dogs can be great companions.I remember growing up grand-dad had a dog with him and his closeness only increased after grand-mom died because the dog was his only companion.When my grand-dad died it was very apparent that the dog somehow knew what happened.The dog even stopped eating after that and I don’t know how but the dog died soon after.I haven’t had any pets myself but when I do it will definitely be a dog.After all,they are man’s best friend!

  • Trinity

    Trinity

    May 27th, 2013 at 11:23 PM

    So I always wanted a dog to go walk with. So there was somebody I saw an ad for who needed a dog sitter. So I said I would. At first it was such a pain. They stunk they have to be walked five times a day they are yappy. So then I decided I didn’t want a dog. But by the time the week was over I kind of got used to them b/c they were such good company so now I can’t decide if I want a dog or not.

  • Grayson

    Grayson

    May 27th, 2013 at 11:25 PM

    When I was younger I worked in a facility for children who had a lot of behavior problems.
    Not all had been abused but some had.
    We got a therapy dog for the unit.
    That dog was so smart.
    He always knew when a child was scared or upset.

  • Viola

    Viola

    May 27th, 2013 at 11:27 PM

    My great grandson has cancer and has to spend a lot of time in hospitals. He just loves it when therapy dogs come around. They get up in the bed with him and will sleep while he pets them. Sometimes he feels so much better afterwards that I think the dogs are better medicine him than the actual medicine. I asked if we could get a dog to just stay in his room all the time but the hospital said it was against policy. I can’t quite figure that one out.

  • SHERRIE

    SHERRIE

    May 27th, 2013 at 11:29 PM

    MY CHURCH HAS A PET THERAPY PROGRAM MY DOG AND I ARE INVOLVED WITH
    WE GO TO NURSING HOMES EVERY THURSDAY
    THE RESIDENTS THERE REALLY SEEM TO LIKE THE DOGS
    ALTHOUGH ONE LADY IS REALLY SCARED SO SHE DOESN’T COME
    I ASKED IF SHE LIKED CATS AND THOUGHT MAYBE I COULD BRING MY CAT
    THEY SAID THAT’S FINE AS LONG AS THE CAT IS DECLAWED
    MINE ISN’T BUT I AM HOPING TO FIND SOMEONE IN OUR CHURCH WHO HAS ONE THAT IS
    I HATE THAT THE WOMAN DOESN’T GET TO PLAY WITH THE ANIMALS SO HOPEFULLY WE’LL FIND SOMEONE SOON FOR HER

  • Wayne T. Garrison

    Wayne T. Garrison

    May 27th, 2013 at 11:32 PM

    One of my grandma’s was in a nursing home. It’s true-she was so sad and lonely when we weren’t there to visit. So they put her on a list for pet therapy and boy what a difference it made for her. The nurses said she always was so happy when the dog was there and for a couple hours after the dog left.

  • Mandie

    Mandie

    May 27th, 2013 at 11:34 PM

    It’s too bad you can’t have dogs in schools. I think it would really help calm the fears of the kids and parents. I am so glad my kids aren’t in school anymore. Scares me to death.

  • Erick

    Erick

    May 27th, 2013 at 11:35 PM

    Just wondering-can dogs from the pound be therapy dogs? Could I go to the pound and pick up a dog and take it to a hospital or something? It seems like it’d be good for both the dog and the patients right?

  • luke

    luke

    May 27th, 2013 at 11:37 PM

    OMG i wanted to do pet therapy with my dog so bad but she was so bad that i couldn’t she would bark at EVERYBODY. it was so embarassing i tried it for like three months and she just wouldn’t behave i was so disappoint.

  • Matt

    Matt

    May 27th, 2013 at 11:40 PM

    I read about the coolest program one time. It was kind of like this:

    Some prisons have established therapeutic pet-ownership programs in which a prisoner cares for an abandoned or unwanted dog or puppy.

    The prisoners would get large unruly dogs from the shelter no one would adopt. They would train and work with the dog until it was adoptable.

    Then the dog would go to a forever home.

    I thought that was just the best program ever. I can’t imagine not seeing an animal for twenty or more years. The relationship b/w a pet and care giver can be so important.

    Anyway, I wish I could remember the name of the program so I could tell you.

  • Everrette

    Everrette

    May 27th, 2013 at 11:42 PM

    Remember that real bad tornado in Oklahoma? Well, I was watching something on the news about a woman who was sitting in her bathroom in the storm with her dog. Her dog got separated from her when the tornado hit and she couldn’t find it. While she was being interviewed, the reporter saw the dog under the rubble and told the woman. You could tell that once the woman had her dog back she knew everything was going to be okay. bEst therapy that woman could have asked for at that point!

  • hugh

    hugh

    May 28th, 2013 at 4:04 AM

    Although my dog brings ME much comfort, I don’t think that anyne else would ever think of her as a therapy dog. Much too hyper for that

Leave a Comment

By commenting you acknowledge acceptance of GoodTherapy.org's Terms and Conditions of Use.

* Indicates required field.

GoodTherapy uses cookies to personalize content and ads to provide better services for our users and to analyze our traffic. By continuing to use this site you consent to our cookies.