Therapy Dogs

Therapy animals are an excellent way to bring comfort to people who are confined in nursing homes, rehabilitation centers, hospitals, and hospices. These animals are usually dogs, but can also be cats, horses, rabbits, guinea pigs, or any other well-trained, well-tempered animal that is friendly and social with groups of people. Therapy dogs are put through a certification process based on the specific organization chosen by their owners. The dogs and owners then dedicate a few hours a week to bringing joy to people in need.

What Are Therapy Dogs?

There are three main types of therapy dogs: therapeutic visitation, facility therapy dogs, and animal assisted therapy dogs. Therapeutic visitation dogs are probably the most commonly known form of therapy dog. These are beloved family pets that are taken to hospitals and rehabilitation centers by their owners to bring happiness to patients who love animals. Facility therapy dogs usually work in nursing homes and are trained to keep patients with mental illnesses, such as Alzheimer’s or Dementia, safe. Animal assisted therapy dogs work primarily in rehab facilities and help occupational and physical therapists teach patients to regain the use of their limbs and/or motor skills.

The History of Therapy Dogs

The origin of therapy dogs in America begins in 1929 at The Seeing Eye, Inc., the first guide dog school in the country. Gradually, using dogs to assist people in need became more and more popular. In the 1940s, a small Yorkshire Terrier, named Smoky, became the first recorded therapy dog in history. She was found abandoned in the jungle of New Guinea by an American soldier and sold to Corporal William Wynne. During World War II, she brought joy to soldiers stuck in hospitals by performing tricks. She also survived a typhoon, 150 air raids, and parachuted from a 30-foot high tree with her owner during the war.

By the 1970s and 1980s, Canine Companions for Independence and Assistance Dogs International, Inc. were founded in order to train and place service dogs with people in need. Three federal laws: the Air Carrier Access Act, the Fair Housing Amendments Act, and the Americans with Disabilities Act, have made a huge difference in how service animals are treated in the U.S.

The Benefits of Therapy Dogs

There are many proven benefits to using therapy dogs! They have been shown to lower blood pressure, reduce anxiety, and lower the levels of epinephrine and norepinephrine in the body (neurotransmitters that regulate heart rate, glucose level, blood pressure, and moods). They also increase endorphins, making the patients happy, and boost the production of oxytocin, often known as the “love hormone.”

Therapy Dog Training

There are many ways to get your dog certified as a therapy dog. Currently, there is no standard certification process; so, tests and training vary depending on the organization you choose. Some popular organizations are the Delta Society and Therapy Dogs International. Some common requirements include that dogs pass a strict temperament assessment test and that volunteers are able to spare a few hours a week for training.

Other Therapy Animals

Dogs aren’t the only animals used for therapy. Friendly horses, cats, and even rabbits and guinea pigs make great therapy animals. Horses are particularly great therapy animals because they are hands-on and require patients to be very calm. Cats are also a wonderful way to bring comfort to patients who might miss snuggling with their own pets at home.