The Value of Therapy Dogs

Dogs have earned the title of man’s best friend for a number of reasons over the centuries. Their pleasing and loving nature, predisposition to cuddling, and intense sense of loyalty make them the kind of companion that stays by your side through thick and thin. Another unique attribute of dogs is that they show a natural inclination toward helping people. For many years, humans have been using dogs to assist in therapeutic settings because of their inherent ability to cheer up humans. Scientifically speaking, dogs have been proven to show empathy and sympathy for their human counterparts. These characteristics reveal themselves especially when someone is in emotional distress. Dogs nuzzle or whine at a person who is displaying signs of sadness. It is this sensitivity to the human emotional state of being that makes a dog such an effective therapy dog. Next are a couple of reasons why therapy dogs are a very big value to a person with disabilities.

What are the Duties of a Therapy Dog?

The duties of a therapy dog require them to have a friendly and patient temperament, much like a good therapist. Therapy dogs come in all shapes, sizes, and breeds, but they all share a common purpose. Therapy teams (dog and handler) provide comfort and companionship to those with disabilities and mental illnesses.

Interacting with a therapy dog can lessen the enormous emotional weight that people experience, especially those with disabilities and others during emotional upset.  A dog cannot cure all, but he or she can certainly help lighten and lift the mindset of a patient to the point of recovery and even personal growth.

Therapy dogs are brought into certain venues and places of healing in order to interact with those under stress. Some places where their services are especially helpful include:

  • Hospitals
  • Retirement homes
  • Schools
  • Nursing homes
  • Rehabilitation centers
  • Disaster sites
  • Airports

These types of locations all involve people who need the empathy a dog can offer–no judgment, only love, and licks. At schools, those with learning disabilities become less anxious and more confident with a therapy dog as their companion. Children are comforted when reading to a therapy dog because the dog does not judge their ability to read. In nursing homes, a therapy dog can cheer and encourage the elderly. In disaster situations, therapy dogs provide those who are suffering from trauma with a comforting and cuddly friend to help them emotionally recover from the crisis.

Overall, a therapy dog’s temperament is essential to the success of their duties. They must be okay with people touching, petting, hugging, and handling them in potentially clumsy or accidentally harsh ways. The dog must not become distressed with physical contact. This is why it is so important for a therapy dog to have a calm temperament. Without it, there is a potential risk that the dog may become defensive and nip or bite a patient, which would be counterproductive to the goals of dog therapy.

What are Some Activities with Therapy Dogs?

Once a therapy dog reaches a venue, patients are encouraged to pet and even play with the dog. Some patients may feel more comfortable simply looking at the dog. Smaller dogs are the perfect size to sit on someone’s lap. These activities provide entertainment and a sense of companionship to someone in need of a friend and a moment of mental respite.

The Value of Therapy Dogs

The presence of a therapy dog helps someone who is struggling take their mind off of their problems and anxieties for a while. The companionship of a therapy dog facilitates real chemical changes in the body of the patient. It has been proven that most patients with therapy dog experiences have lower stress levels, increased calmness and happiness, and are less likely to feel lonely or forgotten. This is reason enough to support the action of making your dog into a therapy dog today.

If you are interested in having your dog become a therapy dog, the Alliance of Therapy Dogs can help you understand how to get your dog registered and insured. Together, you and your dog can help change the lives of those who might need a furry friend. For some people without family or friends to visit, the time spent with a therapy dog could be the difference between a speedy recovery or continued suffering. Therapy dogs are like the live version of holding a fluffy pillow when you’re sad–their empathy alleviates sadness in a way that is difficult to mirror in any other therapeutic method.

2018-06-21T18:07:05+00:00June 15th, 2018|Therapy Dogs|

As the leading therapy dog organization in the United States, Alliance of Therapy Dogs, we are constantly amazed at how therapy dogs are used in myriad situations. The unconditional love offered by therapy dogs allows the healing, helping, and emotional support needed in times of stress. In this article, we will discuss where and how therapy dogs have been used to provide comfort.

Where and How Are Therapy Dogs Used?

Hospice. For millennia, dogs have provided faithful companionship and unconditional love for us. This companionship and emotional connection between the therapy dog and patient results in reduced anxiety and stress and offers a coping mechanism as the patient’s end-of-life nears. With that, many hospice organizations employ the use of therapy dogs as a form of therapy.

The primary goal of hospice is affording comfort during the last days of life which entails providing comfort to patients who often feel isolated in the hospice setting.

“A patient at the end of life can receive comfort from the touch of petting an animal. A patient with dementia can feel positive validation through this touch. Patients who have had animals or love animals find the visits a chance to reconnect to their positive past experiences,” explains Minaxi Patel, MSW, who works with the CarePals Pet Therapy Program at Optimal Hospice Care.

Hospice therapy dogs can sense and ease a patient’s anxiety by playing fetch, petting, or simply be in the room. The therapy dog’s presence can distract a patient from the stress and trepidation of death, even if for a moment or two.

The Workplace. According to a Virginia Commonwealth University study published in Spring 2012, “employees who bring their dogs to work produced lower levels of the stress-causing hormone cortisol.” The study was conducted at a dinnerware company in North Carolina, which sees 20 to 30 dogs a day on its premises. As the workday went on the research found average stress level scores fell about 11% among workers who had brought their dogs to work, while they increased 70% for those who did not. The study also found that therapy dogs triggered workplace interactions that would not normally take place.

It is rare for a workplace to be without some type of conflict or drama. There are many instances where workers feel like they cannot relate to one another or have a hard time feeling empathy due to a lack of shared interests. The introduction of a therapy dog can help generate workplace interactions that would not normally take place; it encourages dialogue as employees share favorite memories of their pets. This commonality helps employees feel more connected to one another, and therefore more willing to operate as a team.

Therapy dogs are communication energizers and tend to spark conversations between employees.  Employees who typically did not talk to one another before, are now more engaged. The benefits go far beyond just reducing worker stress. Businesses that have policies allowing therapy dogs reported that employees perceive these policies as organizational support. The feeling that the employer cares about the employees’ personal and professional development decreases the turnover rate with more job satisfaction.

Schools. Therapy dogs have been active in schools for some time. Teachers and administrators have witnessed the effects therapy dogs have on students and themselves. The benefits of having therapy dogs in the classroom include:

  • Physical benefits. Interaction with therapy dogs has been shown to reduce blood pressure, provide physical stimulation and assist with pain management.
  • Social benefits. A visiting therapy dog promotes greater self-esteem and focused interaction with other students and teachers.
  • Cognitive benefits. It has been empirically proven that therapy dogs stimulate memory and problem-solving skills.
  • Emotional and mental health benefits. A recent national survey of adolescent mental health found that about 8 to 10 percent of teens ages 13 to 18 have an anxiety disorderA therapy dog can lift moods in the classroom, often provoking laughter. The therapy dog is also there to offer friendship and a shoulder to lean on for students.

While therapy dogs have calming effects and reduced stress levels in most students, children with disabilities can present a unique challenge.  Because of the wide range of intensity, behaviors can be unpredictable. The classroom can be a stressful and overwhelming environment due to social challenges and peer pressure. Therapy dogs can reduce the effect of this allowing a child with autism to feel more at ease and open to social behavior. Researchers have found that children with autism are more social when playing with therapy dogs as opposed to toys. New research offers further proof that animals can also have a therapeutic effect. The kindness and the gentleness of therapy dogs help children with autism simply by being there. The child may not speak or may want to engage in compulsive behavior and the therapy dog is by his/her side, ready to engage.

Colleges. A growing number of colleges across the country offer pet therapy programs that bring registered therapy dogs to students that need a break from the pressures of school. Many college students are living away from home for the first time and appreciate the comfort brought by therapy dogs. Since the programs are typically volunteer-based, they usually do not cost colleges any money.

The Lillian Goldman Law Library at Yale gained national attention in the spring of 2011 because of their use of therapy dogs. The impetus for introducing a therapy dog to the Yale Law School library was two-fold. Attending law school is stressful. Some of the students who were new to the rigors of law school used therapy dogs to adjust to new teaching methods, and materials can elevate stress levels. The idea was to help them slow down and cope with their anxieties in an environment where many students stay up late to finish assignments and prepare for the following day.

Tragedies. All too often we hear about a tragedy at a school that makes national news. What many of us do not hear very often is how the students and community were helped by therapy dogs. Therapy dogs were deployed when 26 people — 20 students and six adults — were shot and killed at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. The devastation was felt not only within the Sandy Hook community but through the United States.

Therapy dogs were among the first responders to the aftermath of the shooting. Overwhelmed children and parents said that petting the dogs gave them relief from their sadness. Therapy dogs were also introduced to Virginia Tech campus in Blacksburg, Virginia to aid and comfort the faculty, staff and student body to help cope with the tragedy of the loss of 32 people.

Funerals. When grieving families feel overwhelmed with emotions, many cannot cope with the loss of a family member or friend. Books have been written and support groups have been established to help people through this emotional and stressful part of life. Because of the therapy dogs’ skill set, they provide comfort and support to families and friends trying to manage their grief. For this reason, many funeral homes have employed are using therapy dogs to help families through funeral planning and the funeral service.

According to a National Funeral Directors Association (NFDA) survey, more than half of member funeral homes said they would either be somewhat, very or extremely interested in having a therapy dog at a funeral or memorial service. Therapy dogs allow those grieving to receive some comfort and relieve their stress and anxiety for a bit. This is especially true for grieving children who may not be comfortable talking about their feelings with adults. Therapy dogs give them someone to talk to and comfort them during an emotional and confusing time. Death is difficult enough for many adults to understand, let alone trying to make some sense of it for children.

There seems to be no end to the benefits of therapy dogs. If you would like to learn more about our therapy dog program and how it can benefit you and/or your organization, please contact the Alliance of Therapy Dogs.

 

 

2018-07-08T14:44:33+00:00September 6th, 2017|Therapy Dogs|