The concept of a therapy dog is
often attributed to Elaine Smith, an American who worked as
a registered nurse for a time in England. She noticed how
well patients responded to visits by a certain chaplain and
his Golden canine companion. After returning to the U.S. in
1976, Ms. Smith started Therapy Dogs International, a
program for training dogs to visit institutions.
Pet Therapy, Pet-Facilitated Therapy and
Animal-Assisted Therapy are some of the different terms that describe programs in which
animals are used to help people. The most widely accepted terms for this field are
currently Animal-Assisted Therapy (AAT) and Animal-Assisted Activities (AAA). AAT involves
working with someone when a specific goal has been identified. If you do this as a
volunteer, you will work with a professional who will assist you in selecting goals for
different individuals. AAA are those activities designed to strengthen someone's quality
of life. They can be performed by volunteers and are generally "meet and greet"
activities. These are what was referred to in the past as "pet visitation."
are registered therapy dogs who are working to improve
literacy skills. Along with their handlers they have been
providing much assistance to those youngsters demonstrating
reading lags and associated problems related to poor
Unconditional acceptance from a dog allows children to
forget about their reading difficulties. Instead, they are
now viewing reading as a fun and much-anticipated event.
Golden Rory, shown here in this
wonderful video, is the fourth "R" in the learning
equation at Beaver Area Memorial Library. See how
this therapy dog helps children practice their
Intermountain Therapy Animals, a
nonprofit organization, launched R.E.A.D. in 1999 as
the first comprehensive literacy program built
around the idea of reading to dogs, and the program
has been spreading ever since! Currently, there are
hundreds of registered R.E.A.D. teams working
throughout the United States and Canada.
Visiting with animals can result in lots of welcome
benefits. People may feel less lonely and then less sad or depressed. The change in the
routine can help break up the boredom that occurs in nursing homes. It can provide an
event that is looked forward to, which can greatly improve persons' moods. Visits can
distract patients from doing too much negative thinking about his or her pain or
situation. It helps to make folks feel important, as they know someone is coming solely
for their benefit.
Persons in facilities often don't have the ability to
have pets of their own. And, probably, they no longer have the strength to take on the
responsibilities of having a pet. But, with these visits, they get a chance to get the pet
positives without any of the accompanying work. They can play with and talk to the dogs.
This often stimulates past loving feelings and memories of their previous pets. Patients
then will open up more and become involved in dwelling on the many happy times they
experienced. This is much healthier than thinking about the sad feelings and the current
There is much to be said for 'petting power.' Stroking an
animal has actually been proven to lower a person's blood pressure. And, it is a form of
exercise, as a person is using his or her hands, arms, and upper body. Grooming an animal
also provides much stimulation for both patient and pet, as well as that of love and care.
Just look at
that shows the results of a formal heart patient study to
prove how beneficial this petting power can be!
kind of dog makes a good Therapy Dog? Visiting dogs must be social. If the dog does not truly enjoy this kind of visit, the
interaction will be not be of much benefit. The person also needs to feel accepted by the
dog. A good therapy dog needs to be calm, tolerant and friendly. The visits should be
pleasurable for the both of you. You should never try to force therapy work on a dog. There needs
to be a balance between that of calmness and friendliness.
An obedient dog is wonderful, but he or she also needs to be
interested in meeting people. But, if a dog is too calm,
they may seem aloof. This would then just cause folks to
feel rejected. Extremely friendly dogs may be too
high-spirited and then cause injury by jumping up on
Temperament is truly the single most important factor. A
dog who is friendly and well behaved (no jumping, running around, licking people without
permission) can be certified. The dog needs to be trained to work around people who are
bedridden or in wheelchairs, and understand what this means with respect to their
approaches. This dog should be able to take accidental mishaps in stride (such as when a
disturbed patient yells), and deal with the repetitive nature of Alzheimer's patients, for
example. Yet, therapy dogs must convey they enjoy their work.
great prospects because they usually are very accepting and
"people-proof." Highly tolerant of physical discomfort and
pain, they instead become more upset if they have displeased
Therapy dogs can also be those dogs who are suffering
with their own disability. It is especially inspiring for a
dog with a disability to be imparting love to others dealing
with similar infirmities. Check out
Therapy Dog Hans
who works with rehab patients.
Be sure to go and meet Golden Buddy—and
view his entire book—online.
His own brain tumor inspired a book that gives children the
inspiration to fight brain tumors, But not only that, he
also shows children how important it is to have support and
love. Buddy's message to children is to have hope even when
things are difficult.
"On one visit Buddy sat with a girl for three hours because
she didn't want him to leave her side during
chemotherapy. As an added benefit parents who saw Buddy
visit their children were cheered up to see that during the
brief period that Buddy was with their children, they
completely forgot the ordeal they were going through and
just enjoyed that moment."
do Therapy Dogs work? They can work in hospitals, long-term care facilities,
hospices, nursing homes, adult day care
sites, mental health centers, schools, libraries, special education settings, senior citizen homes, abuse
shelters, and children's residential facilities.
do Therapy Dogs actually do? Therapy Dogs promote a feeling of wellbeing by giving unconditional affection. They
improve a person's focus and can interact with people who are having trouble communicating
(autistic kids, nonverbal persons, etc.).
They can help with a person's memory (in
Alzheimer's patients). They can encourage speech for stroke patients.
They also are beneficial for recovering soldiers as seen in
the video here, with Therapy Golden Charlie.
In the book,
Afternoons with Puppy, Dr. Aubrey H. Fine
details the dynamic relationships and outcomes that
can result from utilizing therapy dogs in a private
psychotherapeutic setting. His work over almost two
decades clearly points to the difference animals can
Dr. Fine, a licensed psychologist
and professor at California State Polytechnic
University, is an internationally renowned export on
Animal-Assisted Therapy. This video features an Pet
Talk Radio interview that he had about the book and
How are Therapy Dogs certified?
There are national organizations and local training clubs for this. Most national
organizations require evidence of a stable temperament and/or basic training before they
will consider a Therapy Dog prospect. The Canine Good Citizen test is often used
the handler need to be trained? The dog is merely half the team. You must also be able to interact effectively with
whoever you are visiting. This means that you will be working at least as hard as your
dog. In many places, the professional staff will provide very specific guidance. In
nursing homes, though, you will practically be on your own. Try to visit a facility
(without your dog) to walk around & get the picture. Then, go again for a short visit
with your dog to meet the staff. You must remember, too, that your first responsibility is
to protect your dog. Not every patient wants to interact with dogs. It will take time to
get a sense of how to encourage some interaction without causing problems. Some patients
become very emotional when they recall the dogs of their childhood. They may become upset
about the dogs they will never be able to "play with" again now that they are
paralyzed. Also, some handlers have trouble dealing with certain types of patients.
You need to recognize this and determine what type of person you can be productive
Holidays are special times for pet visitors
to really shine. Here's a message from Marsha Sturm about her special Golden trio:
"Here is the latest photo of my three Therapy Dogs - Charlie, Mollie and Cheyenne.
Charlie and Cheyenne are rescues. My three volunteer with Gabriel's Angels here in Phoenix
are providing pet therapy to abused and at-risk kids in shelters and Boys & Girls
Clubs throughout the valley. We also volunteer at Good Samaritan Medical Center. Both
visits are different but very rewarding."
TaleTell: Your own Stories of Therapy Goldens Meet some wonderful, hard-working 4-footed therapists.
And, if you have a Golden Retriever Therapy tale that you
would like to share, just send it, along with photos, to: ba