It’s just been one of those days. You were late for work because of construction, your boss blamed you for something caused by a co-worker, you forgot your lunch, had a fight with your husband, and were late to pick up the kids from the babysitter because of a flat tire on your car. You can’t wait to get home and put your feet up. Once you do, your dog jumps up beside you to cuddle your stress away. They look deep into your eyes, and let out a deep sigh as they snuggle up against you. You stroke their soft fur coat, and are immediately taken away from the worries of your day.
If this is a common occurrence for you (the snuggling part, not the bad day!) then you might be able to understand why the use of dogs as therapeutic treatment is growing in many different circles. It has been scientifically proven that animals can decrease depression, lower blood pressure, and increase immunity. As if you didn’t have enough reasons to be grateful for your pet!
Walk into any progressive school, and you might just find a few four-legged counterparts. Some counselors and psychologists now employ the use of animals in treatment for children. Nothing can make a child open up quite like a furry friend. Growing in popularity are programs called ‘Reading with Rover’. In this instance, certified therapy dogs are brought into schools to assist children with learning disabilities. The kids often find it less intimidating to read and explain stories to the pups, as opposed to their potentially judgmental peers. This not only assists in reading speed and ability, but also retention and cognitive processes.
It is not uncommon to find animals in nursing homes and hospitals. However, it is now becoming more commonplace to see therapy dogs in schools, physical therapy offices, and mental health clinics. When the dog first prances into such a clinical environment, most people do a double take… a split second later, a broad smile will likely spread across their face. Most likely, you have seen a therapy dog out and about, but did you ever think about what hurdles they (and their owners!) had crossed to get there?
One way to gain access to many places where pets are typically off-limits, is to achieve certification through Therapy Dogs International. This is the organization that facilitates the testing and approval of the prospective therapy dogs. The testing is incredibly demanding and in-depth. It includes simulations of hospital environments, as well as testing the dogs’ reactions around children, medical equipment, and other dogs. There are also phases that included ‘unexpected situations’ (such as loud noises, people running, dropping objects, etc) as well as a ‘leave it’ phase (they have to ignore a yummy piece of food!) and a phase where they are handled by a stranger. Of course, throughout the testing, they are looking for specific behaviors, including a quiet disposition, a willingness to be around people, and obedience toward the handler.
One subject addressed on the TDI website is that therapy dogs are born, not made. These dogs must be predisposed to this lifestyle. Of course, it is possible to teach a dog mannerly behavior (did you hear that, Gaige?) but you cannot change a dog’s inherent temperament. The dog should have a natural need to be with people.
So, you may be asking why we are choosing to discuss this topic today. It is because we have some very exciting news! TWO of Georgia’s potential adopters have a strong interest in pursuing therapy work with their new dog, whichever that may be. While we would never think to require such effort on the part of an adoptive family, we do feel as though this is a ‘meant-to-be’ situation for her. Anyone who has met Georgia, can see instantly that she has an absolute longing to be around people. Cuddling, petting, playing, tummy rubs… she doesn’t care how you’re touching her, she just wants to feel you nearby! Everyone from our rescue, LCPO, (myself included!) has always held aspirations for Gia to continue on to be a therapy dog. It is a beautiful thing that she may just be able to meet that goal!
Do you think that your dog might have what it takes to become a therapeutic dog? A great first step is the Canine Good Citizen certification. Classes for this designation are offered in most areas. Even if you do not have plans to achieve therapy dog status, CGC dogs make fabulous ambassadors for any breed!