Therapy Dogs are a Life Style of Giving

When you’re down, there is no greater way to get a boost than with the love of a good dog.

By Jennifer Grant

Image: Tatiana Dyuvbanova

When kids are very sick, it usually means a protracted hospital stay. Three key issues hurt all sick kids: boredom, hopelessness, isolation. This little triad of misery is hard to conquer…unless you’re a dog, of course. Therapy dogs slip right into the room and onto the bed to catch some snuggles and generate heartfelt giggles from the littlest patients.

According to science, even a quick visit from a furry friend relieves stress and elevates the mood. A recent study, discussed by Science Direct, was able to demonstrate that therapy dogs quantifiably reduced the stress of university students. Extrapolate that to the human race, and you’re starting to get the picture of just how important dogs are to our overall emotional wellbeing.

Image: Dolores Ochoa

We are familiar with service dogs among us, but therapy dogs are a different breed (literally). While service dogs are trained to complete specific tasks to help a person with disabilities live an independent life, therapy dogs volunteer to visit patients, seniors, and victims of trauma in order to provide comfort.

The strict requirements for temperament in service dog training apply to therapy dogs as well. But, it is a different job altogether, one that engages a wider variety of breeds to the task. Service dogs are typically larger animals due to the daily weight of their task (helping people stand up, carrying heaving objects, turning lights on and off) and therapy dogs tend to be small to medium in size so that they are unobtrusive in a variety of settings.

Image: Sick Kids Get Better

So, what does it take to be a therapy dog?

The key traits to start with are: low aggression, sociability, larger size, high trainability, and low impulsivity. Basically, you want a dog that is calm and able to spend great amounts of time sitting still inside. It can be very stressful for dogs to complete this task. This means it is very important, if you have a working dog, that you learn his or her language and cues. If you see the dog becoming fatigued, pull him out for a little R & R.

Image: Washington University in St Louis

In addition, the dog must be willing to submit to a good scrub without fuss. It’ll be a full body work up – scrubbing under the nails, shampoo for the fur, and cleaning teeth. It is imperative to remove as many germs as possible in order to protect immune compromised patients. Owners tell stories about how excited the dog becomes when they pull out the nail brush or the tooth cleaner. Dogs know it’s go time and they love nothing more than to make their humans happy.

Image: Health Day News

An interesting fact that applies to both service and therapy dogs is that the temperament of a puppy is no measure of who that dog will be when they grow into adulthood.  For this reason, many trainers will only test adult dogs for suitability for service.

There are few things sweeter than a good dog. Dogs who dedicate themselves to serving the most vulnerable among us are true heroes. This is no easy tasks for a dog to perform, yet they do, with grace and gratitude. We can learn so much from our doggy friends!