Animal Assisted Therapy Dogs

Animal assisted therapy dogs are part of a therapeutic plan to help humans. It’s a well know fact that dogs have been assisting humans since the beginning of recorded history.

The Delta Society is a national 501(c)(3)non-profit organization that helps people live healthier and happier lives by incorporating therapy, service and companion animals into their lives. The organization receives no government funding and relies solely on individuals, foundations and corporations for financial support.

At the heart of all Delta Society programs is a research foundation which demonstrates that when animals are around, people’s blood pressure goes down, stress and anxiety levels are reduced, people feel less lonely and less depressed, and they tend to be more social and community oriented.

Delta Society’s Pet Partners program trains and screens volunteers with their pets so they can visit patients in hospitals, nursing homes, hospice and physical therapy centers, schools, libraries and many other facilities. Over 10,000 handler/animal teams bring joy, comfort and compassion to those in need. These dedicated volunteers and their pets have been credited for helping people forget about their pain, providing distractions so nurses can perform medical procedures on pediatric patients, inspiring patients recovering from strokes to perform more physical therapy exercises than when they work with only their human therapists, and even bringing people out of comas.

Delta Society provides resources for healthcare, educational and other professionals so they can learn how to safely and effectively incorporate therapy animals into their practices. Delta Society’s National Service Animal Resource Center provides information and resources for people with disabilities, as well as their friends and family, who are considering getting a service animal or who are currently partnered with a service animal. Delta has one of the most comprehensive sites available for people with disabilities who want to gain more independence though the help of a service animal at their side.

To learn more about the wide variety of health benefits for people of all ages visit Delta Society. Subject matter covered on their site includes the healing power of pets for children, adults, seniors and families.

Animal assisted therapy is the use of certified therapy animals as a part of a therapeutic plan. The Delta Society describes animal assisted therapy as a “significant part of treatment for many people who are physically, socially, emotionally or cognitively challenged.” Those in hospitals or nursing homes often benefit from animal assisted therapy, especially children and the elderly. While animals such as horses and cats can make excellent therapy animals, dogs are by far the most common type. Perhaps this is because of the unique bond that canines and humans share. Therapy dogs truly make a difference in the lives of the people they meet.

Animals, especially dogs, have been assisting humans since the beginning of recorded history. They have helped us work and provided us with companionship and lifted our spirits. However, it was not until the 20th century that animals were officially recognized for their therapeutic abilities.

In 1976, Elaine Smith founded Therapy Dogs International, the first registry for therapy dogs in the US. One year later, the Delta Foundation (later named Delta Society) was formed to research the effects that animals have on people’s lives. Today, these groups, along with many others, help provide therapy animals to people in need of Animal Assisted Therapy.

Animal assisted therapy teams consist of a certified therapy animal and a trained handler. Therapy teams visit hospitals, nursing homes, assisted living centers, childrens homes and other similar facilities to help lift spirits and facilitate recovery. Therapy dogs visit with the sick and elderly, sometime simply sitting by the person’s side and patiently being petted. Patients can walk therapy dogs, play with them, feed them or groom them. Some therapy dogs are trained to sit quietly and attentively while children read to them. Many therapy dogs have their own disabilities or limitations that serve as inspiration to humans with disabilities.

Dogs of any breed, size or age may be eligible to become therapy dogs. However, not all dogs are cut out for the job. Therapy dog candidates must possess certain traits in order to qualify. Temperament is by far the most important factor. Before even entering a training program, the therapy dog candidate must be friendly and non-aggressive. The dog must get along remarkably well with children, men, women and other animals. The dog should also be confident, patient, calm, gentle and receptive to training. Socialization is essential for all puppies, but it is especially important for a dog to be considered for a therapy program. For these reasons, Golden Retrievers are one of the most popular breeds used as therapy dogs.

Animal assisted therapy dogs dogs work with a dedicated handler. This is often, but not always, the dog’s owner. If you want to become a therapy team with your dog, you must both complete thorough training. A great way to begin is to participate in the American Kennel Club’s Canine Good Citizen Program. This certification shows that your dog is socialized, friendly and has adequate basic training. Certification is a prerequisite for many therapy dog programs.

The next step is to contact an official animal assisted therapy organization like Delta Society. There are required courses before a dog and handler can become a registered therapy team. Therapy dogs must also meet specific health requirements. Once the dog and handler complete all requirements, they must go through a final evaluation, or series of evaluations, to become official.

Once you and your dog become a therapy team, you can begin visiting facilities. Visits and schedules are typically arranged through your organization. Once you get out there and start making a difference, you’ll be glad you took the time to go through the process. Being an animal assisted therapy team can be one of the most rewarding experiences of your life.