What Is a Therapy Dog and What Do They Do?

Pet Health

Laura Vissaritis

There can be no doubt that in this day and age, we could all do with a little therapy. Historically, therapy came in limited forms, mostly via employment of psychiatrists and use of medication. But these days, our minds are much more open to giving ourselves a break, improving our mental health and even happiness through less conventional measures. Yoga, sports, and mindfulness are now a major part of many peoples’ busy lives, but what happens when you don’t have access to being able to help your self? How can a dog help those people who may need therapy the most?

Dogs have been the most incredible therapists to humans for thousands of years. For every person in everyday life, the hug of a dog, their wagging tail and unconditional love makes us all feel better. Those of us who have a dog in our lives are undeniably the lucky ones. We know that looking into the eyes of a dog elicits the positive activation of chemical transmitters such as endorphins and oxytocin. Touching their fur reduces our blood pressure and helps to regulate our heart rate. Dogs keep us more active, assist in better mental health, and, there is a strong correlation between people who have dogs in their lives, and longevity. There is no psychiatrist or drug that can do all this for us. Undoubtedly, dogs are a four-legged phenomenon!

It is no surprise that due to the benefits canines bring to our lives, they are selected as our therapists in numerous ways. Therapy dogs are carefully selected and trained to assist in the mental and physical wellbeing of people, who are often experiencing some sort of chronic illness or stress. What continues to impress me about these therapy dogs however, is the variety of assistance they can provide humans. From the days of hospital visits and nursing home cuddles, these animals can now help people get through their day in so many incredible ways. Below are just some of the disorders or disabilities that dogs are known to provide therapy for:

  • Autism
  • Arthritis
  • Blindness or Impaired Vision Deafness
  • Impaired Hearing
  • Diabetes
  • Cardio/Pulmonary Disease
  • Cerebral Palsy
  • Physical mobility Issues
  • Multiple Sclerosis (M.S.)
  • Psychiatric Disabilities
  • Seizure Disorders (Epilepsy)
  • Severe Allergy Alert
  • Spina Bifida Spinal
  • Cord/Head Trauma
  • Stroke
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Mood disorder
  • Fear/phobias
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
  • Suicidal Thoughts/Tendencies
  • Adjustment Disorder
  • Generalized anxiety disorder
  • Social anxiety disorder
  • Panic disorder
  • Separation anxiety
  • Dissociative Disorders
  • Factitious Disorders
  • Eating Disorders
  • Impulse-Control Disorders
  • Mental Disorders Due to a General Medical Condition
  • Neurocognitive Disorders
  • Mood Disorders
  • Neurodevelopmental Disorders
  • Personality Disorders
  • Psychotic Disorders
  • Sexual and Gender Identity Disorders
  • Sleep Disorders
  • Somatoform Disorders
  • Substance Related Disorders

If you think that you or someone you know would benefit from the assistance of a therapy dog, there is some wonderful information available. Firstly, it is important to determine if your dog is suitable for the role. As with any job in life, a Therapy role doesn’t suit everyone. The temperament of the dog as well as their physical health are extremely important. Additionally, the way a therapy dog is trained, ensuring positive and rewards-based training is used are imperative. A dog must feel confident and relaxed in a range of environments. It is also important; perhaps most important, that the dog also experiences a positive outcome in their job. The relationship between the person and dog must be one of mutual benefit.

Tens of thousands of Aussie lives are enhanced by the presence of a therapy dog each year. Most organisations are supported by generous and experienced volunteers, who donate their time and expertise to helping those who are most in need. It is an incredibly rewarding role to take and one that I recommend you look into if you have the time. So, would your dog pass as a therapy dog? Here is a link to give you an idea of whether your pooch may be able to put on the therapy dog hat. https://www.deltasociety.com.au/pages/delta-therapy-dogs.html

You might find that they would pass with flying colours. Or, you may realise that they need a little therapy themselves first. Whatever you find, take the time to thank your dog every day for the unconditional assistance they provide every human being. They are indeed remarkable therapists, and certainly one I talk to every day!

Laura Vissaritis

Please note: Laura's blog is general advice only. For further information on this topic please consult your veterinarian.

Add a Comment

  1. Enter your comments


Your details