Therapy dogs are often confused with service dogs, however, there are some very important differences. The biggest difference is the fact that service dogs are specially trained to assist people who are disabled with their basic living needs. One the other hand, therapy dogs visit a wide variety of facilities and provide the pure comfort of canine companionship. Therapy dogs have been known to visit hospitals, rehabilitation centers, nursing homes and anywhere else where their love and comfort can be of service.
It is estimated that there are more than 50K registered therapy dog and owner teams in the US. There is also an increasing amount of scientific data that shows the effectiveness and benefits of canine-human interaction. One study in particular determined that patients with heart failure had lower blood pressure after only a 12-minute visit with a therapy dog. Another study showed that both humans and canines experienced an increase in dopamine and oxytocin hormone levels, known as the ‘happiness hormones.’
Therapy Dog Benefits
The love and affection that therapy dogs bring to others is without-a-doubt healing. Although, their type of healing comes as psychological therapy when they show affection, entertain and over time motivate those who need it to overcome their struggles.
Increases Endorphins & Oxytocin
Research has shown that canine therapy increases both endorphins and oxytocin. Both of these naturally-produced substances are essential in maintaining the body’s proper happiness and stress perceptions. These substances help our bodies to process stress, and increase our feelings of happiness and empathy.
Lowers Levels of Norepinephrine, Epinephrine & Reduces Patient Anxiety
One of the main reasons that therapy dogs are such an essential element to healing is the fact that they can reduce patient anxiety. When a person’s body is under the stress of healing an injury, the additional stress of worry and anxiety slows the healing process and can cause additional problems. By lowering the stress and anxiety of patients, therapy dogs promote faster healing and a healthier life.
Dog therapy has been shown to lower levels of both epinephrine and norepinephrine, which are both very important nervous system stimulants. The human body needs these stimulants to maintain proper levels in order to control anxiety and depression. These stimulants also affect many other important bodily functions, such as glucose levels, heart rate and blood pressure.
Lowers Blood Pressure
People who face anxiety, depression, COPD, rapid heart rate, stress and many other problems often have high blood pressure. High blood pressure not only complicates current problems, but also creates more by adding stress to the heart and body. Since most of these problems are psychological, they can be cured by a different type of therapy. This type of therapy does not require prescription medications and promotes the body’s own natural processes.
Can My Dog Become a Therapy Dog?
While there are an unlimited number of dogs that can become certified therapy dogs, however, there are some essential requirements that they must meet. There are many organizations that can provide training and certification for therapy dog and owner teams, such as The American Kennel Club, Therapy Dogs International and more. Each organization has their own unique requirements, however, for the most part they share many common policies.
Nearly any dog breed can be trained to become a therapy dog, regardless of whether they are purebred or not. In fact, it is commonly believed that each different breed has unique properties, behaviors and attitudes that make them beneficial in various healing and health situations.
While any dog breed can become a therapy dog, some of the best therapy dog breeds include: Airedale Terriers, Bullmastiffs, Greyhounds, Pomeranians and Saint Bernards.
Age & Health
There are 2 important factors regarding age that are generally stipulated, the dog must be 1 year old and must have lived with their owner for a minimum of 1 year. It is also required that the dog in question has not shown any aggressive behaviors and that their owner is of the right temperament.
One of the biggest requirements regards the dog’s health. Since therapy dogs may work in a variety of healthcare settings, it is required that they be healthy and are vaccinated regularly. While this requirement may be complicated, it is the most essential. On the upper hand, any certified veterinarian can perform a thorough health examination and provide the necessary vaccinations.
Therapy Dog Training
There are many organizations, mostly sponsored, that can provide a thorough evaluation and proper training, as well as certification for becoming a professional therapy dog. These organizations not only examine and train the dog, but the owner as well. In the end, they determine whether or not a dog-owner team qualifies as a certified therapy dog capable of encouraging natural healing.
The training requirements typically cover basic and fundamental obedience and therapy dog courses, as well as familiarization with strange environments such as hospitals. Since most of these organizations are non-profit, they often rely on donations and small fees alone to provide their services. After the dog has passed all training courses, they will then be given a series of tests. They must pass all of these evaluations in order to become a certified therapy dog.
Therapy dogs have been shown to promote the body’s own natural healing processes. Dog therapy increases happiness, reduces depression and promotes a healthier lifestyle in general. For many programs and patients, therapy dogs have been an essential part of helping people get better. Becoming a certified therapy dog team requires no less work and effort than most dog shows, and any dog can do it. All you have to do to become a certified dog team is find an organization that offers dog therapy training and certification, and make sure that your dog meets the requirements.