What Are The Benefits Of Having A Therapy Dog?

Updated March 17, 2020

Medically Reviewed By: Aaron Horn

What Is A Therapy Dog?

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In the early 1970's, Elaine Smith, the founder of TDI, Therapy Dogs International, noticed how patients responded in a positive way when a chaplain made rounds with his golden retriever. The Chaplain and his golden retriever seemed to brighten the day for many patients, they enjoyed petting and interacting with the dog. Patients who were visited by the chaplain and the dog seemed to be in a better mood after the visit, and moods can influence recovery in positive ways.

In 1976, Elain Smith founded TDI, and the first TDI dog visits included five handlers and six dogs. From the first few visits, it was clear that TDI could bring happiness to patients who needed it and TDI is still going strong. Organizations like TDI provide handlers and dogs in many different therapy situations, hospitals, hospice, senior living, and support groups are a few of the institutions that use therapy dogs on a regular basis.

People who have anxiety, depression, and other issues can also adopt or train their pet to be a therapy dog. When a pet is trained to be a therapy dog, the dog can accompany their owner everywhere they go to provide a sense of well-being and safety. Programs for therapy dogs differ depending on where the owner and dog live, so it is important to check with local and state governments to learn about potential procedures and guidelines that must be followed. It is also important to understand that there is a difference between emotional support dogs and service dogs. Emotional support animals have limited rights while Service animals have completed rigorous training that allows them access to more areas.

The AKC, American Kennel Club, have a special course that provides "Canine Good Citizenship" certificates to owners and pets who complete the program. In some states, this certificate is the first step to certifying a dog for therapy. The AKC provides literature on how to complete the "Canine Good Citizenship" program, but it is up to the owner to determine the criteria for therapy dogs in their state.

The program also provides a tag for the collar that states Canine Good Citizen and the owner signs a pledge; the program asserts that pets and owners who pass the program are, "Responsible owners and well-mannered dogs."

Personal Therapy Dog

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Therapy dogs are a wonderful way to experience the security, love, and calming influence a canine companion can provide. Dogs have an innate ability to love unconditionally and although this a common statement about dogs, it is still worth repeating. There are two ways to get yourself a personal therapy dog; you can train one yourself, or you can find someone who trains these dogs for a fee. Although any dog can be used as a therapy dog, of course, temperament is a key factor.

A therapy dog is a pet that can accompany you wherever you go, so it must be tolerant of other animals and people. The following is a list of traits to look for in a therapy dog, this list is not the be all end all, but it is a good place to start for anyone looking for a therapy dog:

  • A confident personality
  • Tolerant of other animals
  • Comfortable in public places
    • Does not startle easily
    • Calm around loud sounds
    • Calm around strange smells
    • Calm in crowds
  • Completely housebroken
  • Tolerant of small children
  • Comfortable with strangers

It is important to remember that your new therapy dog will go anywhere you do, and it is impossible to predict how others will behave around your pet. The more training and exposure to public places, people, and animals, the better. If you are going to train your therapy dog, it is a good idea to learn all you can about training a dog.

Benefits Of Owning A Therapy Dog

The benefits of owning a therapy dog are endless. They are great for anyone going through an emotional period in their lives; just petting a dog can even lower your blood pressure! Having a close companion who loves without judgment, and is there no matter how crazy life gets, is one of the best benefits a therapy dog has to offer.

A therapy dog provides routine and routine can have a calming influence on life in general. Dogs must be walked, groomed, and fed, and this routine adds stability during times of change and stress. Walking a dog is exercise and exercise releases endorphins that reduce stress. Grooming is an activity that develops a strong bond between a pet and their owner and grooming such as brushing and bathing will engage your mind and help you unwind. The routine you develop with your therapy dog is something any therapist or counselor would recommend.

Therapy dogs are also great for easing the symptoms of depression. Having a quiet and loving companion who listens no matter what is an amazing experience for anyone suffering from depression. Dogs have a way of brightening a mood with a bit of playful interaction or just a cute tilt of their head. Again, the routine required for caring for a therapy dog can help those with depression by providing activities that require little effort and a big reward.

Research has shown that therapy dogs provide a sense of comfort and safety to those in stressful situations. Interacting with and bonding with a therapy dog may trigger the body to increase oxytocin levels, lower cortisol levels, and trigger the release of dopamine. All these benefits are just what the therapist orders when life gets tough. Therapy dogs can help ease a stressful transition such as leaving home for the first time, dealing with grief, and going through a divorce.

Top Therapy Dogs Breeds

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Therapy dogs are dogs that provide comfort and affection in hospitals, schools, hospice, and retirement/nursing homes. Therapy dogs can also be personal companions and are great for those with autism and learning disabilities, as well as those with emotional problems and anxiety. While any dog can become a therapy dog, some breeds are better suited for the task. This is a list of dogs that are well suited as therapy dogs because of their temperament and natural abilities.

Labrador Retriever

The Labrador Retriever is a great therapy dog because they are naturally even-tempered, affectionate, and intelligent. Labrador Retrievers have been used for a long time as service dogs for the blind, and those with physical disabilities, because they are very trainable and eager to please their humans.

Labradoodle

The Labradoodle is a cross between a Labrador and a Poodle and they became popular in the late 80's for use a guide/service dog because they are hypoallergenic. Hypoallergenic is not the only reason these pooches are perfect for therapy work; they are extremely intelligent, even-tempered, and very trainable.

Poodle

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Poodles are hypoallergenic; this makes them a great choice for therapy dogs. They are very intelligent, easy to train; they excel at obedience training, and they are affectionate. The poodle is a sensitive breed; they are well equipped to handle any situation that requires a calm, sensitive, intelligent, demeanor. Poodles come a few sizes, toy poodle, miniature poodle, and the standard poodle.

Corgi

As with all dogs that are well suited for therapy, the Corgi is intelligent and affectionate. Another awesome quality is they do not require much exercise; this makes them perfect for those who are not very active. These dogs have a small stature but are very sturdy; they are easy to train and do well in any situation.

French Bulldog

French Bulldogs are comedians, they are extremely sociable, and their quirky personalities make them a favorite therapy breed. This breed loves to interact and entertain, they are compact and have short hair which keeps grooming to a minimum. They may not be the easiest breed to train, but with the right touch and patience, they will fall in line. French Bulldogs are eager to please and love being the center of attention.

Pug

Pugs are another number one choice for therapy dogs. Pugs are an ancient breed, bred to be companions and this makes them perfect for therapy. Their silly, loving faces can brighten any situation, and they are outstanding entertainers. Pugs live to be with their person, and they love human interaction. Smart, loving, easygoing, and relatively well mannered, Pugs are great therapy dogs.

King Charles Spaniel

This beautiful, friendly, cuddly dog is a therapy dream. They are intelligent, calm, and even-tempered, the perfect qualities for therapy work. This adorable breed is obedient and interactive, they do well in all situations, and their small size is great for hospital and other institutional work. Their long silky fur is made for petting, and they love the attention.

Bichon Frise

Not only adorable and affectionate, but these little, fluffy dogs were also bred to be lap dogs! This breed is becoming popular as a service dog too because they are very loyal and excel in obedience training. They are small and easy to care for; this makes them a good choice for any therapy situation. Bichon Frise is popular with children and adults alike, and they their sweet nature is perfect for therapy.

Choosing a dog is the first challenge, but with a little research and patience, the perfect therapy dog is not hard to find. Therapy dogs help millions of people deal with the changes and challenges life can bring. Having a therapy dog is an awesome way to find comfort, affection, and happiness for people of all ages.


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