Having a dog is a wonderful experience because you will always have a friend by your side. Dogs love unconditionally and they can bring great comfort to their owners. While anyone can benefit from having a dog as a pet, service dogs and therapy dogs provide support that goes above and beyond the advantages of traditional dog ownership.
What do Service/Therapy Dogs Do?
According to a national survey conducted by the American Pet Products Association, about 13% of dog owners and 8% of cat owners receive some type of assistance or therapy from their pets. Service dogs take many different forms and they can be trained to perform a variety of tasks. Guide dogs, for example, physically lead individuals who are blind or visually impaired – in a sense, the dog acts as a pilot, leading the individual in a straight path until it is directed to make a turn. Guide dogs help their owners to avoid obstacles that they cannot see.
Service dogs are trained to perform specific tasks for individuals who have disabilities that limit their strength, mobility, or balance. For example, service dogs can be trained to pick up objects for people who cannot bend down. Service dogs can also provide companionship for housebound individuals, even for autistic children who have difficulty interacting or communicating with others. Some service dogs are trained to assist people with mental illnesses – these dogs are called psychiatric service dogs.
Therapy dogs are a little different from service dogs in that they are typically taken to hospitals, nursing homes, and rehabilitation facilities to provide therapy for a number of individuals other than their owner. Therapeutic visitation dogs help to lift the spirits of patients who are hospitalized and miss their home or their own pets. Animal-assisted therapy dogs work alongside physical and occupational therapists to help people recover from injury or accidents. Facility therapy dogs typically work in nursing homes to help patients with Alzheimer’s disease or other mental conditions.
The Benefits of Service and Therapy Dogs
Service dogs and therapy dogs can be trained for a number of different purposes and they can benefit individuals with many different conditions, including:
- Hearing impairments or visual deficits
- Arthritis or other mobility problems
- Head trauma, spinal injury, or stroke patients
- Individuals with ataxia – balance problems
- Patients with multiple sclerosis or cerebral palsy
- Individuals with seizure disorders
- Patients with cardiovascular disease
- Individuals with Type 1 Diabetes
- Patients with autism, especially children
- Individuals with mental disorders or psychiatric disabilities
Not only can service dogs and therapy dogs provide physical benefits for individuals with various diseases or disabilities, but they offer mental benefits as well. According to a study conducted by Dr. Karen Allen in 1995, disabled patients with service dogs scored much higher than those who did not in categories of self-esteem, psychological well-being, and community integration.