Therapy dogs work with their owners to offer emotional and psychological support to other people. This can be for in nursing homes, hospitals, schools, and more.
Therapy dogs can be used to combat loneliness or depression. They are also used to help people cope with emotional traumas.
The three general types of therapy dogs are: therapeutic visitation dogs, animal assisted therapy dogs, and facility therapy dogs. But, none of these types are considered service dogs.
Frequently Asked Questions
Many people are curious about the exact roles and responsibilities therapy dogs have. Take a look at some of the most common questions we get below:
- What types of therapy dogs are there?
- Are therapy dogs service dogs?
- Which breeds make the best therapy dogs?
- How do I get a therapy dog?
- Can I make my dog a therapy dog?
- How are therapy dogs trained?
Let’s get started by taking a more detailed look at what a therapy dog is.
What is a Therapy Dog?
Many dogs meet the criteria required to become a therapy dog, but this doesn’t mean they are certified therapy dogs.
According to the AVMA, therapy animals are used in goal-oriented interventions where the animal is vital. This can be for individuals or for groups of people.
Therapy animals are used in a variety of situations, for a huge number of different people. Here are some examples of therapy dog uses:
- To improve focus and interactions for children with learning disabilities
- Stress reduction
- Stimulate communication skills
- To improve symptoms and experiences for cancer patients
- Improving reading and writing skills, and enthusiasm
- Increased focus and motivation
There’s actually no universally recognised qualification process for therapy animals.
You can also earn titles and qualifications for your therapy animal with organisations like the AKC and CGC.
Successfully qualified dogs are calm, friendly, social, and affectionate. They won’t shed excessively, and are not overly energetic or boisterous.
Types of Therapy Dogs
It might surprise you that it’s not just dogs that qualify as therapy animals! Cats, small pets like rabbits, and even horses can qualify!
Therapy animals typically fall into one of three categories.
Firstly, there are therapeutic visitation animals. These animals visit locations to provide support for people living away from home or suffering from illnesses.
Some of the most common places they visit are rehabilitation clinics, nursing homes, and hospitals.
Secondly, we have animal assisted therapy animals. These dogs work with therapists in rehabilitation environments to help patients meet goals for recovery.
Are Therapy Dogs Service Dogs?
There are some important distinctions between therapy dogs and service dogs that owners should be aware of. Therapy animals do not qualify as a type of service animal.
Service dogs are specially trained to perform certain tasks for individuals who cannot do them alone or at all. Whereas therapy animals are most often only there to offer support and assist therapy.
Service dogs have full access to all public areas and most private facilities, as their owners often need them at all times.
However, this doesn’t extend to therapy dogs. Some public and private places do not allow therapy animals.
Therapy animals are also not trained to perform tasks like reminding someone to take medication or detect the onset of a seizure.
Best Therapy Dog Breeds
The best therapy dog breeds should have friendly, affectionate temperaments. They need to be social, but not overly energetic and boisterous.
Most therapy animal organisations will register any breed.
But, here are some common breeds that are popular as therapy animals:
How to Get a Therapy Dog
If you are searching for a therapy dog to help yourself, you should think carefully about whether you mean a therapy dog or a type of service dog.
Many people who suffer from extreme anxiety attacks, or issues like Post Traumatic Stress Disorder actually need service dogs, not therapy animals.
Therapy dogs are not allowed in all environments. So they won’t be able to help you in all public or private places if you suffer with problems like these.
Instead, therapy animals usually go to people or places where they can offer support, comfort, or companionship.
Can I Make my Dog a Therapy Dog?
If your dog has all the characteristics that an ideal therapy animal needs, you might be keen to register them as one.
There are a huge number of organisations you can turn to in order to register your dog. So, you should research which one is best for you.
Assessment processes will differ depending on the organisation. The best way to find out what will be expected of your dog to pass this assessment is to look at the organisation’s website.
Some organisations may only require basic obedience training. However, depending on the therapeutic activities you intend to use your dog for, you may need to complete further training.
How to Train a Therapy Dog
As we’ve just seen, therapy dogs need different levels of training depending on the therapeutic activities they will participate in.
But, as a base minimum, you should train your dog with basic obedience. This will prevent your dog from jumping up at or accidentally hurting vulnerable people.
Proper socialization is vital for all therapy dogs. Well socialized puppies are happier and more confident in new or unfamiliar situations, which is vital for therapy dogs.
Socialization is also great for reducing fear based reactions and aggression.
So, before your puppy reaches 12 weeks old, introduce them to as many new people, animals, and environments as possible.
Particularly the places they will visit when they are a fully grown therapy dog.
Therapy Dogs – Summary
Do you have a therapy dog at home, or are you just keep to register your pup as one? We would love to hear about your experiences with therapy animals in the comments.
Which breed do you think is the best at this job?
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References and Resources
- Limond, J. (et al), ‘Behavior of Children with Learning Disabilities Interacting with a Therapy Dog’, Anthrozoos (2015)
- Barker, S. (et al), ‘Measuring Stress and Immune Response in Healthcare Professionals Following Interaction with a Therapy Dog: A Pilot Study’, Psychological Reports (2005)
- LaFrance, C. (et al), ‘The Effect of a Therapy Dog on the Communication Skills of an Adult with Aphasia’, Journal of Communication Disorders (2007)
- Marcus, D. ‘Complementary Medicine in Cancer Care: Adding a Therapy Dog to the Team’, Current Pain and Headache Reports (2012)
- Kirnan, J. (et al), ‘The Impact of a Therapy Dog Program on Children’s Reading Skills and Attitudes Toward Reading’, Early Childhood Education Journal (2016)
- Gee, N. (et al), ‘The Presence of a Therapy Dog Results in Improved Object Recognition Performance in Preschool Children’, Anthrozoos (2015)
- Cole, K. (et al), ‘Animal-Assisted Therapy in Patients Hospitalized with Heart Failure’, American Journal of Critical Care (2007)
- Fiocco, A. & Hunse, A. ‘The Buffer Effect of Therapy Dog Exposure on Stress Reactivity in Undergraduate Students’, International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health (2017)
- American Veterinary Medical Association
- Therapy Dogs International
- Service Dog Certifications
- American Kennel Club
- ‘Frequently Asked Questions about Service Animals and the ADA’, U.S. Department of Justice