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What is a Therapy Dog

  • Published: 2011-04-18 (Revised/Updated 2017-03-19) : Thomas C. Weiss (Disabled World).
  • Synopsis: These Dogs come from a variety of breeds there is no perfect breed or mix of breeds that make the best Therapy Dogs.
Therapy Dog

A dog trained to provide affection and comfort to people in hospitals, retirement homes, nursing homes, schools, people with learning difficulties, and stressful situations, such as disaster areas. Therapy dogs come in all sizes and breeds. The most important characteristic of a therapy dog is its temperament. A good therapy dog must be friendly, patient, confident, gentle, and at ease in all situations. Therapy dogs must enjoy human contact and be content to be petted and handled, sometimes clumsily. A therapy dog's primary job is to allow unfamiliar people to make physical contact with it and to enjoy that contact. Children in particular enjoy hugging animals; adults usually enjoy simply petting the dog. The dog might need to be lifted onto, or climb onto, an individual's lap or bed and sit or lie comfortably there.

Main Document

Quote: "Therapy Dogs and their Handlers visit schools, nursing homes, libraries, hospitals, and other facilities where people would benefit from interactions with the Dogs."

Therapy Dogs:

Therapy Dogs must be on-leash obedience trained and remain under control while presenting excellent behavior. They need to have the ability to work around other dogs while remaining free of aggression. Therapy dogs are social, interacting with people in a positive manner. They enjoy being touched, petted, and held if appropriate. Therapy Dogs present a stable temperament and do not display aggression or fear. They also have the ability to stay calm in situations that are new and may involve a number of distractions.

Therapy Dogs come from a variety of breeds; there is no, 'perfect,' breed or mix of breeds that make the best Therapy Dogs. The dog must healthy, one-year of age, well-mannered, and enjoy interacting with people. If the dog fits these requirements, it might make a good Therapy Dog.

The Value of Therapy Dog Visits

Therapy dog lying on patients bed in hospital
About This Image: Therapy dog lying on patients bed in hospital
Therapy Dog and Handler teams are all unique and provide people with exceptional opportunities for therapeutic contact. Only dogs that are registered with an organization are considered to be Therapy Dogs. Coyotes, Wolves, coyote hybrids, or wolf hybrids are not permitted to become Therapy Dogs becomes they cannot be verified as immune against rabies.

Therapy Dogs are not required to know any tricks, although a number of Handlers have taught their Dogs some such as how to wave or shake hands as a way to start conversations with the people they are there to serve; or to make them smile. Routines that teach Dogs obedience may also be used to start conversations, with well-trained Dogs excelling at say, standing still while a person either pets them or brushes them. Each Therapy Dog and Handler team is familiar with their means of interacting with others and provides unique and wonderful therapeutic contact.

Recognition of the value of using animals in the healing process has been around for a very long time. In a variety of types of health care facilities, visits from Therapy Dogs have demonstrated an increase in the calmness, happiness, and overall emotional well-being of people who have come in contact with them. Studies have been pursued that have demonstrated a decrease in both the stress levels and blood pressure of people during visits by Therapy Dogs. These Dogs give residents, staff members, and visitors a break from regular daily routines, loneliness, and illness.

What is the Definition of Pet Therapy Activities?

Therapy dog playing with a cat
About This Image: Therapy dog playing with a cat
Therapy Dogs and their Handlers visit schools, nursing homes, libraries, hospitals, and other facilities where people would benefit from interactions with the Dogs. During a visit with a Therapy Dog, people are invited to interact with the Dog through petting them or stroking them. Some people might want to brush the dog, while other people may simply wish to look at it.

Smaller Dogs may be ones that people can hold in bed or on their laps, with permission. Other Therapy Dogs perform simple tricks; others might perform obedience routines for the pleasure of the person they are there to serve. Some people like to walk or use their wheelchair or adaptive equipment next to the Dog. Handlers might throw a toy for the Dog to fetch, or play games with the Dog and the person to enhance the therapeutic contact. The presence of the Dog helps people to take their minds off of problems.

Do Therapy Dogs Wear Vests?

While some Therapy Dogs do wear vests identifying them, many of these Dogs do not. Some Therapy Dogs wear vests while they are hallways; for example, but take them off in rooms while they interact with people. Therapy Dogs are Dogs that are meant to be petted and a vest can cut down on the area of the Dog's coat that is exposed.

Therapy Dogs might also wear a Bandanna identifying them as a Dog used for therapeutic purposes, or an identification tag. They may have a flat buckle collar, or a form of simple harness. A Therapy Dog Handler might carry an identification card for the Dog.

From a health safety perspective, Therapy Dogs must have a checkup with their veterinarian each year, as well as mandatory rabies vaccinations. Each Therapy Dog needs to have received an initial series of Hepatitis, Distemper, and Parvovirus vaccinations as well. They need to have a negative fecal examination each year. All Therapy Dogs must have a negative Heart-worm test every year if they are not on a preventative medication. Even if they are on a preventative Heart-worm medication, the Dog must have a negative Heart-worm test every-other year.

There are a number of organizations that certify Therapy Dogs. Many of these organizations are available on a State-by-State basis. Therapy Dogs are not required to be ADAA certified and provide incredibly valuable services to People with Disabilities, Seniors, Children, and Veterans.

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