Therapy dogs can have numerous benefits, such as providing a sense of purpose, adding structure and routine to a person’s life, offering unconditional love, and alleviating symptoms of mental health conditions like anxiety and depression. If you’re interested in other approaches to managing mental health challenges, you may wish to look into online therapy.
When Were Dogs First Used For Therapy?
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 positive 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 mental health conditions can also adopt or train their pets to be therapy dogs. 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 tend to differ depending on where the owner and dog live, so it can be important to check with local and state governments to learn about potential procedures and guidelines that must be followed. It can also be important to understand that there is a difference between emotional support dogs and service dogs. Emotional support animals usually have limited rights, while service animals have completed rigorous training that allows them to attend more locations.
Personal Therapy Dogs
Therapy dogs can be a wonderful way to experience the love and calming influence a canine companion can provide. Dogs often have an innate ability to love unconditionally, which can be very beneficial for those living with mental illnesses. There are usually two ways to get yourself a personal therapy dog; you can train the dog yourself or find someone who trains these dogs for a fee. Although any dog can be used as a therapy dog, temperament tends to be a key factor.
A therapy dog is generally a pet that can accompany you wherever you go, so it normally must be tolerant of other animals and people. The following is a list of traits to look for in a therapy dog:
- A confident personality
- Tolerance toward other animals
- Comfortable in public places
- Does not startle easily
- Calm around loud sounds and strange smells
- Unbothered by crowds
- Completely housebroken
- Tolerant of small children
- Comfortable with strangers
It can be important to remember that your new therapy dog will generally go anywhere you do, and it is often impossible to predict how others will behave around your pet. In general, the more training and exposure to public places, people, and animals your dog has, the better.
Benefits Of Owning A Therapy Dog
The benefits of owning a therapy dog can be endless. Therapy dogs can be great for anyone going through an emotional period in their lives; just petting a dog can lower your blood pressure! Having a close companion who loves without judgment, and is there no matter how crazy life gets, may be one of the best benefits a therapy dog can offer.
A therapy dog often provides routine, and routine can have a calming influence on life in general. Dogs must be walked, groomed, and fed, and this routine can add stability during times of change and stress. Walking a dog can be a form of exercise, and exercise usually releases endorphins that can reduce stress. Grooming is an activity that can develop a strong bond between a pet and its owner, and it can engage your mind and help you unwind.
Research has shown that therapy dogs often 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.
Top Therapy Dog Breeds
While any dog can become a therapy dog, some breeds tend to be better suited for the task. The following dog breeds are often well-suited to become therapy dogs because of their temperaments and natural abilities.
- Labrador retriever
- French bulldog
- King Charles spaniel
- Bichon Frise
Other Ways To Cope With Mental Health Challenges
Adopting a therapy dog or training your pet to become a therapy dog can be an effective method of alleviating symptoms of mental illness, but there can be other ways to cope as well. One of these may be online therapy, which can empower you to get help from a licensed mental health professional from the comfort of your own home or anywhere you have a reliable internet connection.
As this study explains, online therapy can be a viable substitute for in-person therapy as its efficacy is generally the same. This type of therapy can be an excellent choice for anyone who wants to improve their mental health or feels they’d benefit from working with a professional.
The advantages of having a therapy dog can include added routine and structure, a sense of purpose, decreased symptoms of anxiety, depression, and other conditions, and unconditional love. Aside from getting a therapy dog, there can be many ways to improve your mental health, such as working with a therapist through an online therapy platform.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Do Therapy Dogs Actually Work?
Therapy dogs can be incredibly effective in helping people with a wide variety of conditions, including mental disorders.
Should My Dog Be A Therapy Dog?
Not all dogs may be qualified to make it through the dog training required to become a therapy dog. Certain breeds tend to be better suited than others, and even within those breeds, not all dogs may have the proper disposition to make it through the rigorous dog training required. If you would like for your dog to become a therapy dog, you might 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 can be numerous benefits of pet therapy and of having a therapy dog or emotional support dog. Some of these may include:
They can give the owner a sense of purpose. One of the main benefits of pet therapy can be that you must care for that dog, which can help some people feel like they have a purpose and something to live for.
The dog often provides unconditional love and comfort regardless of your mental state.
Taking care of a therapy dog often includes the added benefit of physical therapy as they will need to be walked, cared for, and played with.
The dog can provide 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 can provide significant health benefits to the owner, such as lowered blood pressure, reduce stress, and decreased heart rate.
They can alleviate loneliness and increase your mood, which may help with symptoms of depression.
Do Therapy Dogs Fly For Free?
In some situations, yes; however, it often depends on the airline and how strict they are on their definition of a service animal.
Can I Get An Emotional Support Dog For Anxiety?
You may be able to get an emotional support dog for anxiety if you have an official diagnosis and your anxiety is considered debilitating.
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 can be 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
Can Dogs Sense Anxiety?
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 de-escalate before reaching that point.
What Is The Best Pet For Anxiety?
Some of the best dogs for anxiety can include:
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 generally 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.
In general, 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 tend to be much more suited to the task than others. These breeds often include:
Cavalier King Charles Spaniel
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