Dogs have been assisting humans since the beginning of recorded history. Service and therapy dogs aid us with work, provide us with companionship and help raise our spirits. But it wasn’t until the 20th century that dogs were officially recognized for their therapeutic abilities.
Service dogs are usually identified by most people as guide dogs for the seeing impaired. There are other types of service dogs ranging from ones that sniff out drugs and bombs, to those who search for and rescue people trapped in avalanches or buried under the debris of an earthquake.
Therapy dogs are a significant part of treatment for many people who are physically, socially, emotionally or cognitively challenged. Hospital and nursing home patients, especially children and the elderly, benefit from these animals. Canines and humans have always shared a common bond and therapy dogs make a major contribution to the lives of the people they serve.
Animal assisted therapy teams visit hospitals, nursing homes, and assisted living centers to help lift patient’s spirits and assist in their recovery. Therapy dogs visit the sick and elderly, sometimes just sitting by a patient’s side and being petted. Patients can also take therapy dogs for walks, play with them, or groom them. Some therapy dogs are trained to sit quietly while children read to them. Many therapy dogs have their own disabilities or limitations and help to serve as inspiration to humans with disabilities.
Dogs of any breed, size or age can become therapy dogs, but not all dogs are suited for the job. For example, my own dog, a purebred Golden Retriever was bred and raised by Guide Dogs For The Blind, but at some point during his training, he obviously decided he wasn’t cut out for the job and he failed to graduate (I believe he did so deliberately).
Therapy dog candidates must possess certain traits to qualify for their career. Temperament is the most important factor as a therapy dog candidate must be friendly and non-aggressive. It has to get along extraordinarily well with children, adults, and other animals. The dog also has to be confident, patient, calm, gentle and receptive to training.
Appointments with facilities that encourage the visits of therapy dogs can be arranged by calling the institution you would like to take your dog to and ask to speak to the person or department that handles such visits. Visiting hospitals and nursing homes with your assisted therapy dog can be one of the most rewarding experiences of your life.