Dogs are said to be “man’s best friend” and nowhere does that show more than in pet therapy. One of the most commonly used pets is dogs. They have been our faithful companions for centuries and now are also being seen as homeopathic healers
What is it about dogs that makes them so lovable? For one, dogs, like some other animals, mirror the emotional states of those around them. This is why you come home from a long day feeling a bit melancholy and your favorite poodle companion dutifully lays at your feet or in your lap on the sofa to try and brighten your mood. They sense that something is going on. There have even been examples of dogs saving their owners from sudden medical disasters by alerting others to get help.
Here are the top ten breeds of dogs that are suitable as therapy dogs for those in need.
1. Labrador Retriever – These big mutts are so lovable, even by people who do not consider themselves to be dog lovers. They love to run and play as well as be petted and generally love their owners all day long. Simply petting them or having them lay their head in your lap can bring about feelings of contentment.
2. German Shepherd – These dogs have long been bred as service dogs even though we are talking about their use in therapy here. They are highly intelligent, protective and able to be trained for a variety of different purposes.
3. Greyhound – This dog is sleek, beautiful and fast. But, he is also a great companion, especially for those who have trouble sleeping. Greyhounds are quiet and will lay down with you and keep you company until you fall asleep.
4. Beagle – We always knew that Snoopy was the best dog to have around. Beagles are small, active, friendly and love to cuddle with others.
5. Rottweiler – This dog looks lethal but they were bred to be guard dogs who subdued their prey without hurting them. They are calm and intelligent.
6. Saint Bernard – This dog is big and furry and lovable. They are good with kids because they are infinitely patient when kids handle them roughly.
7. Pomeranian – This small dog doesn’t require a lot of space to move. They are great for elderly folks who want a dog they can pet and who will sit on their lap and enjoy endless cuddling.
8. Poodle – These dogs are hypo-allergenic so people with allergies don’t have to worry. Poodles are intelligent so they can be trained for a number of tasks.
9. Pug – He is small and funny looking but a great little guy. They love to please people and are amenable to young and old alike.
10. French Bulldog – With their short legs and bat-like ears, they are cute and inquisitive. They are non-confrontational animals and perfect lap dogs.
Looking for a dog for a pet therapy program? These ten breeds are up to the task.
Is My Animal Suited to Therapy Work?
Therapy pets perform a very important job. They provide a need for patients with disabilities – whether physical, behavioral or mental. Adding an animal component to treatment of certain patients can make a big difference in their care, including the length and the extent of treatment. Are you thinking about volunteering your pet to help others? Here are some things you should know.
Pet therapy involves the use of private animals and their owners to assist in a therapeutic nature with patients of all types. Therapy pets are utilized in nursing homes, hospitals, hospices, private homes, schools, prisons, shelters and the like. Across a spectrum of locations, pets have proven their worth as a healing balm to humans.
There are a large number of organizations that specialize in therapy animals for people. They are always on the lookout for volunteers and their animals to assist with the cause.
Is My Animal Ready?
When it comes to therapy, many breeds of dog, cat, bird, and others are suitable to interact with people, but that doesn’t mean that your pet is ready. Here are some criteria to consider.
- Obedience – Your dog might be okay at home, but when they get around other people, do they bark or snarl? To ensure your dog is ready, consider an obedience course. Make sure that the trainer’s methods comply with the AKC/Canine Good Citizen test. A good training program can take from six to twelve weeks to complete. They should be able to follow your commands when around new people.
- Temperament – How does your pet react around other people? Depending on the location and type of therapy needed by the patient, there may be a lot of petting involved. Kids are often loud and rough until they are taught to handle pets. Is your pet able to deal with crotchety old folks and rambunctious children? A good therapy pet is one that stays calm and gentle in a variety of circumstances.
- Socialization – Dogs and other animals that are used to being around people are more likely to be friendly and outgoing in a crowd of new faces at a nursing home or a children’s ward in a hospital. They also need to be comfortable and not spooked when around other animals.
- Clean bill of health – Therapy pets should be free of disease and properly vaccinated so as not to pose a danger to the patient. The center or the organization you will be working with may require proof of their health. Short-haired pets that don’t shed a lot (if at all) are preferable. Some patients may have allergies to animal dander.
Pets of all kinds are used in animal assisted therapy. You and your canine, feline or bird could be the next volunteers.
Six Common Questions about Therapy Pets
What are therapy pets and are they safe? This is a question that many may be asking when they first hear about this type of program. They are found in schools, nursing facilities, hospitals, prisons, private homes and anywhere the love and presence of a pet would provide support. What are your concerns about therapy pets?
Therapy Pets Are Not Service Animals
These two terms are not interchangeable. Service animals are trained for a specific person for specific needs such as blindness, deafness, mental disability, illness and the like. This animal (usually a dog) stays with the individual at all times and are provided certain protections under the law.
Therapy pets, or animal-assisted therapy pets, are there for emotional support, as an adjunct to therapy sessions. They are good for elderly persons, autistic individuals, those suffering from PTSD, cancer patients, mental health patients, children and others. Pet therapy can improve confidence and social interactions, decrease anxiety, and increase teamwork and fine motor skills.
What to Ask When Thinking about Pet Therapy
There are many benefits to using these services. They may have been suggested to you before. Here are common questions and their answers.
1. What happens during pet therapy? – This depends on the setting. In most cases the therapist will supervise as the pet and his handler (usually his owner) are introduced to the patient and parameters of the meet are established. With most animals (not fish of course), there will be contact through direct care as well as petting and cuddling.
2. What are the risks of pet therapy? – There are very few risks, if any. Facilities screen the pet/handler teams to meet their criteria. When working with big animals like horses, participants wear helmets and other protective gear. Interactions are monitored to make sure that there is no injury to either party.
3. How do you prepare for pet therapy? – The particulars of the specific program you are participating in will be explained to you at the outset even before you agree to it. The first meeting is a bit apprehensive until the pet and the patient become accustomed to each other.
4. What type of animals are used? – This depends on the therapeutic needs of the patient. Common animals are dogs, cats, horses, rabbits, birds and guinea pigs. Some organizations won’t certify what they consider to be “exotic animals.” That includes snakes, lizards and ferrets.
5. Does this therapy actually help? – Research is still ongoing, but pets have been used for therapeutic purpose for hundreds of years. People with pets are more likely to live past a medical incident like a heart attack than those without a pet. The calming effects of pets decreases stress and anxiety just by being around them.
6. Where can I find a therapy dog or other pet? – Local organizations exist in just about every area. You can Google nationally known organizations and look for local chapters in your area. If you are asking for someone in a hospital or nursing facility, speak with the staff to find out if they offer such a program.
Get the information and the answers you need about pet therapy.
How to Find a Therapy Pet
You’ve heard about pet therapy. It just might be a good option for you or a loved one. So, what is the next step? How do you find a therapy pet that is right for your needs? Here are some suggestions.
Pets and Holistic Health
Studies show that the presence of a pet has health benefits for the owner. While everyone isn’t in a position to own a pet, this doesn’t mean that they can’t benefit from someone else’s. Pet therapy programs are designed for owners to share their pets with others who might need a bit of four-legged therapy. As part of a therapy program, pets are utilized to provide emotional support, break down barriers and be a constant for patients that are thought would benefit from this type of interaction.
Pets provide a number of health boosts to owners. They are constant mood enhancers. Pets mimic the emotional states of their owners. Because they are people pleasers, they will provide comfort and companionship when you need it most. They are also intelligent and loving, so they learn and can be of assistance to you. Animals can improve mental focus, physical strength, social interactions, reduce stress and anxiety, lower blood pressure and increase self-confidence and self-esteem.
Finding a Therapy Pet or Program
So where are these dynamic animals kept? Many people can find pets to be stressful because of the aspects of their care (feeding, walking, bathroom training). However, pet therapy is designed to be anything but stressful. The pet is owned by a private person who cares for them and is responsible for their training to perform therapy. Many patients learn about care for the animal and do assist with that, even though they are not solely responsible.
- Perform some research – You can get on the internet and search for pet therapy programs in your area. Also search for national organizations that may operate a chapter near you. Suggestions: The American Kennel Club (www.akc.org), the ASPCA (www.aspca.org), the Delta Society (https://petpartners.org/) and Therapy Dogs International (http://tdi-dog.org).
- Visit your local animal shelter – They usually have information about pet visitation programs and pet therapy certified animals. People may bring animals they can no longer care for to the shelter and they may have the training necessary to become a therapy pet.
- Check with dog trainers and kennels – They may have relationships with programs that are looking for trainable animals to pair with handlers or to use as service dogs.
- Ask your therapist – If you believe that a therapy animal will be of benefit to you or a loved one, consult your therapy provider. They may know themselves or have contacts with other providers who utilize this type of adjunct to their therapy process.
Therapy pets and/or programs are available all across the country. Begin your search today.