What Are The Benefits Of Having A Therapy Dog?
What Is A Therapy Dog?
In the early 1970s, Elaine Smith, the founder of TDI, Therapy Dogs International, noticed how patients responded positively 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 the chaplain and the dog visited seemed to be in a better mood after the visit, and moods can positively influence recovery.
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, hospices, senior living, and support groups are a few institutions that regularly use therapy dogs.
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 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 to more areas.
The AKC, American Kennel Club, has 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
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 yourself or find someone who trains these dogs for a fee. Although any dog can be used as a therapy dog, 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
- It 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 good 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 offers.
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 its 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 dopamine release. 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
Therapy dogs provide comfort and affection in hospitals, schools, hospices, and retirement/nursing homes. Therapy dogs can also be personal companions and are great for those with learning disabilities and 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.
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.
The Labradoodle is a cross between a Labrador and a Poodle, and they became popular in the late '80s 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.
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 affectionate. The poodle is a sensitive breed; they are well equipped to handle any situation that requires a calm, sensitive, intelligent demeanor. Poodles come in a few sizes, toy poodle, miniature poodle, and the standard poodle.
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 Bulldogs are comedians, 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 they will fall in line with the right touch and patience. French Bulldogs are eager to please and love being the center of attention.
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.
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 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 its sweet nature is perfect for therapy.
Choosing a dog is the first challenge, but the perfect therapy dog is not hard to find with a little research and patience. 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.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Do Therapy Dogs Actually Work?
The benefits of pet therapy programs can’t be overstated. Therapy dogs have been proven to be incredibly effective in helping people will a wide variety of conditions, including mental disorders, to physical therapy. Some of the benefits of pet therapy programs include:
- Reduced stress
- Reduced anxiety
- Lessens the severity of panic attacks and panic disorder
- Reduces depression
- It helps calm and prevent episodes of post-traumatic stress disorder
- It can help regulate mood disorders
- Can help reduce the severity of phobias
There are just a few of the benefits of pet therapy programs. You must have a diagnosed medical, mental condition and receive a prescription from a psychiatrist or physician to get a therapy dog. It is important to note that not every dog will complete the dog training required to become a therapy dog.
If you have been diagnosed with a severe mental illness and your doctor has recommended the benefits of pet therapy programs to you, then you may be considering using your own dog as a therapy dog. Before you do, keep reading to see what qualifications your dog needs to complete dog training to see if they would be a good fit.
Should My Dog Be A Therapy Dog?
Unfortunately, not all dogs are qualified to make it through the dog training required to become a therapy dog. Certain breeds are more suited than others, and even within those breeds, not all dogs have the proper disposition to make it through the rigorous dog training required.
If your dog is incredibly friendly but also happens to be a big ball of energy that can’t sit still and doesn’t listen well to commands, they will not make a good therapy dog. Being friendly is only one of the many requirements of pet therapy programs. In addition, a dog must have a good and calm temperament, listen to commands and be fully trained, be tolerant of physical discomfort, and not be easily startled or spooked, to name a few of the requirements.
If you would like for your dog to become a therapy dog and believe that it would be a good fit, then find a program near you that specializes in the training of therapy dogs and see if your dog would be a good fit.
What Are The Benefits Of Having An Emotional Support Dog?
There are numerous benefits of pet therapy and of having a therapy dog or emotional support dog. Some of these include:
- They give the owner/patient a sense of purpose. One of the main benefits of per therapy is that you have to care for that dog which helps some people feel like they have a purpose and something to live for.
- The dog provides unconditional love and comfort regardless of your mental state.
- Taking care of a therapy dog will often include the added benefit of physical therapy as they will need to be walked, cared for, and played with.
- The dog provides a sense of responsibility for the patient and can help them develop a follow-up schedule.
- In another example of unintentional physical therapy, having a dog has been shown to provide significant health benefits to the owner, such as lowered blood pressure, reduce stress, and lower heart rate.
- They alleviate loneliness and increase your mood, which helps with symptoms of depression.
As you can see, there are many benefits of pet therapy, and they may be different for each person depending on the conditions they live with. For example, while providing physical therapy is not strictly one of the benefits of pet therapy, it is clear that it is an unintentional benefit.
If you are wondering if the benefits of pet therapy could help you with your mental health condition, speak with your doctor or therapist about getting a therapy dog.
Do Therapy Dogs Fly For Free?
In some situations, yes; however, it depends on the airline and how strict they are on their definition of a service animal. Therapy dogs are not strictly classified as service animals, even though they have undergone significant dog training to perform their job.
Whether or not your therapy dog will be allowed to fly free on a flight or not largely depends on your condition that requires a therapy dog's aid. It is highly recommended that you speak with a representative of the airline you are thinking of flying with to clarify the requirements.
- Can I Get An Emotional Support Dog For Anxiety?
Suppose your anxiety is considered severe enough, yes. One of the benefits of pet therapy is that the therapy dog can help prevent anxiety attacks and can help you calm down if you do have one. However, not everyone is qualified to receive the benefits of pet therapy. Much like physical therapy, to receive the benefits of pet therapy from a trained service dog, you must have a doctor or therapist provide you with a prescription.
If your anxiety is not considered debilitating, you can still get the benefits of pet therapy by getting an emotional support animal. It is important to note that an emotional support animal is not considered a service animal in many situations. That means that they will be considered pets for legal purposes and will not have the same rights as full-service dogs.
Who Benefits From An Emotional Support Animal?
Many people can experience the benefits of pet therapy, and the benefits are not limited only to people with mental health disorders. Those undergoing physical therapy or extended hospital stay for physical conditions can also reap the benefits of pet therapy. Some mental health conditions that are helped by the benefits of pet therapy are:
- Mild to severe anxiety
- Agoraphobia (fear of being outside of the home)
- Aerophobia (fear of flying)
- General Anxiety Disorder
- Stress-induced situations
- Social shyness
Can Dogs Sense Anxiety?
Yes. That is one of the many benefits of pet therapy. Dogs can smell the hormonal changes associated with a spike of adrenaline or cortisol in a person’s system. This can help a therapy dog warn their owner of an approaching panic attack or anxiety attack and help them calm down and deescalate before reaching that point.
What Is The Best Pet For Anxiety?
Some of the best dogs for anxiety are:
- French Bulldogs
- Cocker Spaniels
- Golden Retrievers
- Labrador Retrievers
- Saint Bernards
The key to getting the most benefits of pet therapy, particularly for those who struggle with anxiety, is finding a calm dog and is not hyper-energetic.
How Do I Make My Dog A Service Dog For Anxiety And Depression?
To qualify for a service dog, you must first receive a prescription from your doctor or therapist that states that your anxiety or depression is severe enough that it hinders your ability to perform at least one significant function in your daily life.
From there, you will have to show that you are financially stable enough to care for your dog, and that you are reliable enough to participate in their training, be willing and able to take them to the vet for regular check-ups, and that you will be able to command the dog to perform tasks confidently.
Your dog must have the right temperament, personality, and intelligence level to qualify as a service dog and will have to go through a lengthy training program to become one.
How Does An ESA Help With Anxiety?
One of the benefits of pet therapy and having an ESA is that the animal can calm a person with anxiety simply by being with them. ESAs are not specifically trained to perform any tasks or retrieve items like medications for a person, but they are trained to be patient, loving, and loyal.
In many cases of anxiety, the benefits of pet therapy work by simply having the animal there to comfort and console you through an episode.
What Is The Purpose Of An Emotional Support Animal?
The main benefit of pet therapy is that the animal can provide therapeutic benefits and comfort to its owner through companionship.
What's The Best Emotional Support Dog?
While just about any breed of dog can go through the dog training required to become a therapy dog or emotional support dog, certain breeds are much more suited to the task than others. These breeds include:
- Labrador Retriever
- German Shepherd
- Cavalier King Charles Spaniel
- Golden Retriever
- Saint Bernard
Again, other dog breeds may also excel in pet therapy programs, but it largely depends on their individual temperament, obedience, and intelligence level.