Owning a dog can be very therapeutic. There is plenty of research which demonstrates that having a pet can be very good for you. As well as having physical effects such as lowering blood pressure, pets reduce stress and provide companionship. If you have restricted mobility or spend a lot of time at home due to your disability, having a pet to care for can be immensely rewarding. However, it is not always possible to care for a pet – this is where therapy animals come in.
What is a therapy dog?
A therapy dog is not like an assistance or service dog, which is trained to work with people with specific disabilities – although that’s not to say that a dog can’t be trained for both functions. Therapy dogs generally serve a more psychological purpose and make you feel better, rather than help you with important tasks in your everyday life as a service dog might do.
A visit with a therapy dog can give you something to look forward to and enhance your mood in many ways, whether you have a long-term condition that restricts your mobility or if you are a carer for someone else.
Many people say they feel much better after a visit from a therapy dog and studies have shown that they can reduce stress, improve your mood, and even lessen social anxiety.
You can even train your own pet to be a therapy dog
How is a therapy dog trained?
Anyone with a dog can apply to have it trained to be a therapy dog. You must have owned your dog for at least six months and it needs to be at least nine months old. It will need to be assessed to pass a temperament test examining how your dog copes in crowded places, sudden noises and being around strangers. Your dog must also be fully vaccinated. Therapy dogs are most commonly breeds which are known to have a gentle and friendly natures such as Golden Retrievers, poodles and Cavalier King Charles Spaniels.
If your dog is well-trained, gentle, calm and quiet, it may well make an excellent therapy dog.
How to access therapy dogs
There are several different organisations in the UK who work with therapy dogs. Most of them do fantastic work with people in places where animals wouldn’t usually be allowed, such as care homes, hospitals and schools. In these cases, dogs will be fully trained and vaccinated to be in these places and they will be covered by insurance policies.
If you don’t have access to group visits from therapy dogs that might take place in hospitals or day centres, there are other ways of experiencing the benefits of a therapy dog. For example, the organisation Dogs for Good works with local authorities, healthcare providers and specialist charities to refer adults and children for Animal Assisted Intervention. As part of this, the person who is referred will work with a local professional such as a teacher, therapist or social care practitioner to achieve the goals of their care plan with the help of therapy dogs.