Typically, therapy dogs spend a set amount of time on the same day each week on their visits, and patients stroke the pets and chat to the animals and their owners.
Therapy dogs work in medical places such as hospitals and care homes, or hospices, where they can bring comfort to a patient at the end of their life, as well as helping to ease any physical pain.
Therapy pets in any sort of medical institution can act as a comforting reminder of home. In some places, pets actually grow up in the care home, so that it is their home too, and so they are an integral part of the institution’s ?family’. Therapy dogs have even worked in emergency zones where there has been a disaster such as an earthquake.
Psychological Benefits of Therapy with Dogs
Dogs are, of course, well known to be a human’s best friend, and the companionship they offer can be invaluable, especially with patients who live alone. The affection is unconditional – pets do not judge, nor do they expect anything in return for their friendship. For patients who struggle to trust other people, they may find it much easier to make an emotional investment in an animal. There is a lot which patients can learn about responsibility and friendship from these pets.
Canines can reach the parts that other humans sometimes simply can’t, especially when it comes to isolated patients, by getting them to talk and open up where friends, family, professionals and other patients have not been able to help them communicate or respond.
Equally, dogs can trigger and reignite memories and help people to remember experiences that had been forgotten. For some patients, it can be like a journey back through time as they rediscover childhood memories, recall past family pets and so on. At the same time, the companionship a therapy pet provides can be an incredibly welcome distraction from a person’s illness, and stop them thinking and worrying about it.
Dogs can also bring an extra dimension and fresh energy to the life of someone who is physically unwell, with visits providing a structure to their day or week and giving a reason to get out of bed. Therapy dogs also help to improve quality of life by easing a bad mood, lifting the spirits and easing stress.
Physical Benefits of Therapy Dogs
The benefits of therapy dogs are not just psychological. These pets can also help get patients into an exercise routine, and boost the release of beneficial hormones including prolactin. It’s also been found that therapy dogs often lead to patients seeing their doctors less. Because of the reduced stress, blood pressure can lower, and less pain medication is needed.
Any dog can be a ‘therapy dog’ but it must be specially trained and temperamentally suited – this means it has to be calm, clean, good with people and other animals, injected, and disease-free. There are organizations in the US which train dogs as therapy dogs, and have volunteers who take the pets into the places where they work.
Therapy dogs do not wear a vest so they are not confused with service dogs, who act as guides for deaf or blind owners, and so that as much of their body as possible can be stroked and petted.