For those confined to a hospital, senior care facility, or mental health ward, therapy dogs can make a world of difference. In addition to being in poor physical or mental health, many of the people in these facilities have been forced to leave their own pets at home. Fortunately, therapy dogs can fill this gap and provide effective therapy at the same time.
Therapy dogs work in a wide variety of settings — from children’s hospitals to nursing homes, they can be found moving through the hallways with their handlers, looking for someone to visit with and asking for extra pats on the head. In addition to being comforting and cuddly, therapy dogs serve a variety of other purposes.
What do Therapy Dogs Do?
The answer to this question depends largely on the type of setting they are employed. A therapy dog that works in a nursing home or assisted living facility may work solely to improve the lives of the people there by providing visits and allowing the residents to pet the dog and reminisce about their own pets. Many residents in communities like this get excited about the idea of a therapy dog and may bake treats or plan their events around the dog’s visit. These small things give meaning and variety to the lives of the residents. Therapy dogs are not only confined to nursing homes, however, and can often be found in mental health hospitals or Wounded Warrior programs, where they may help provide anxiety relief or emotional support.
What Is the Difference Between Therapy Dogs and Service Dogs?
Service dogs are dogs that are specially trained to provide a specific service, such as guiding a blind person, detecting seizures, or assisting with a person’s physical disability. A therapy dog, on the other hand, is a dog that possesses certain personality traits that make him calm, personable, loving, and gentle. Therapy dogs do not necessarily have any special training, although they are required to complete a certification test that measures the dog’s confidence, demeanor, performance under stress, and mastery of commands such as “leave it,” “sit,” and “down.”
Why Are Therapy Dogs Important?
Having contact with a therapy dog can reduce blood pressure levels, pain, and angst in patients. Additionally, therapy dogs can lighten depression in seniors, provide comfort for sick children and distressed elders, and reduce loneliness in people of all ages. Although the job that a therapy dog might perform will differ from facility to facility, the foundational services are always the same: therapy dogs help people heal and encourage variety, excitement, and love in their lives.
Content reviewed by a veterinarian.