Years ago people had a dog, rarely let it in the house and if they did it was confined to the kitchen or basement in cold weather. The dog was strictly a pet and really not considered a member of the family. Occasionally, you might see a guide dog assisting a blind person, but we honestly didn’t pay much attention to all that went into training this dog to do his/her job.
Fast forward 50+ years
In this day and age, dogs are considered members of the family. They’re treated to all the benefits we give our children — healthy diet, specialized medical care, doggie day care and trips with the family to fun places. Many people won’t even leave the house unless their dog is welcome at their destination.
But above and beyond the elevation of the dog as a family member, dogs now have a secure position in the medical profession as therapy, companion or helping dogs. Just look at many of the areas where dogs work with adults and children:
1. Overcoming addiction
2. Assistance for independence in early dementia
3. Managing emotional or behavior disorders
4. Emotional support with chronic pain
5. Brightening spirits during hospital stays
6. Predicting certain medical conditions, such as seizures
7. “Listening” to encouraging reluctant readers (like spriteshero.org in Richmond)
8. Reducing exam stress and homesickness for college students
7. So many others
How Therapy Dogs Benefit People
1. Reduce anxiety, fear and isolation
2. Increases focus and attention
3. Lowers blood pressure and may reduce heart attacks and strokes
4. Improves social skills, especially in elderly
5. Boosts confidence, especially in shy children
6. Increases trust and empathy
7. Detects specific medical problems
Therapy dogs are fantastic with the elderly who may feel no one cares for them anymore. They work miracles for children who have severe medical conditions or learning disabilities. Dogs are not judgmental, nor do they care what a person looks likes or how they smell. They purely enjoy being around humans and it is enough to receive a friendly smile and a pat or rub. They also seem to sense what each person needs.
I know my dogs give me constant “therapy” just by being in the room with me, giving an enthusiastic greeting when I come through the front door and snuggling beside me after a long day. I can see by how they look and act that they are happy.
But are they therapy dog material? Probably. But if I wanted to use one of my dogs for therapy, first I would check with a vet or trainer to learn what is involved in preparing a dog to be a good therapy dog.
Some of the necessary skills the dog needs are obedience training and AKC Canine Good Citizen training. A quick Google search of “Canine Good Citizen training Richmond VA” will give you a list of starting places. And if your dog is going to perform more involved tasks for people, advanced training will be required.
Therapy dog candidates should be in good health, well-groomed, current on all vaccinations and pass a temperament test administered by a qualified person.
The dog’s behavior must be predictable. And, they must respond instantly to their handler, usually the owner. You don’t want a 60-pound Labrador Retriever jumping onto an elderly person’s lap!
If you choose for you and your dog(s) to get involved in pet therapy training, you will discover that the “human-animal” bond is strengthened beyond anything you could have imagined.
My only question
Why aren’t there more therapy dogs in DENTIST’s offices!!!
To me, that is the perfect place for them — to decrease anxiety and fear! Imagine settling into the dentist’s chair for your five root canals and having a cute, adorable, little dog on your lap to pet or sitting beside you on the floor, ready and waiting when you need a reassuring pat or rub.
Ok, so that won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but a Richmond dentist with a pet therapy dog on staff might actually make me look forward to going to the dentist!
Carole Tomas is the owner and president of Pet Pleasers, Inc. She is a graduate of Ohio University and a Charter Member of the National Association of Professional Pet Sitters. When she began Pet Pleasers in 1985, business was conducted Old School via a landline, snail mail and an answering machine the size of a breadbox. No internet, email, text messaging, digital photos, social media or mobile phones! What has remained constant over three decades: Carole’s love of animals and an unwavering passion for professional pet sitting.