What Do Therapy Dogs Do?
Therapy dogs function primarily in an emotional way, though physical benefits can result through boosting morale for physical therapy as well as self-care tasks. The term “therapy dog” was used by the first registry in the United States Therapy Dogs International, for dogs taken on visits to health care facilities. Therapy Dogs Incorporated and other organizations have followed suit. Delta Society dogs are called “Pet Partners.”
“Animal-assisted therapy,” “animal-assisted activity,” and “pet therapy” are all terms that describe an encounter between a therapy dog and a person being visited.
Many volunteer therapy dog handlers work along with licensed therapists on some visits, while on others, they work without these paid professionals. Licensed professional therapists and counselors occasionally include dogs in their practice.
Therapy dogs have the right to go where they have been invited. It is essential to understand that a therapy dog is not an assistance dog. A dog that assists a person with a physical disability to function is in a different legal category, as well as a different functional one. Terms for these dogs include “assistance dog,” “service dog,”, “hearing dog,” “mobility assistance dog,” “guide dog” and others. Assistance dogs for people with disabilities can also include dogs that alert to impending epileptic seizures as well as a variety of other functions.
The Americans with Disabilities Act gives people with qualified disabilities the legal right to take their trained assistance dogs with them to places opened to the public. One term for this is “public access rights.” Therapy dogs are not included in the Americans with Disabilities Act and do not have federal public access rights under this legislation. State laws vary, and access rights in some states may apply to therapy dogs. It is important that therapy dog handlers not try to exercise public access rights inappropriately because this behavior harms disabled people who need to exercise such rights with their assistance dogs.
Benefits of Therapy Dogs
When people lose the ability or desire to speak, it gets harder and harder to start again. Dogs are highly social animals. A good therapy dog with developed social skills may actually learn to communicate with people that other people can’t reach. Somehow this communication from the dog can help a person to find a bridge back to speech. It can also help a child who’s struggling against unusual difficulties in learning to speak for the first time.
Another way therapy dogs help people is by meeting the universal need for physical touch. This need isn’t satisfied by neutral touching involved in physical care, though many staff members give extra touch when they have time.
Some people receiving care in facilities have healthy relationships with relatives or caring staff people to provide needed touch. Others don’t. Many of us are uncomfortable hugging or otherwise touching strangers, or even people we know. Therapy dogs enjoy the petting and hugging they get in their work. Their obvious enjoyment encourages more touch, bringing profound benefits to the people they visit.
Children and Dogs
Another benefit therapy dogs can give is particularly relevant to children. Many children grow up without even exposure to dogs to be able to relate to them in adulthood. Poor socialization of children to dogs, as well as poor education about dogs, leads to bites. These experiences can often be avoided or emotionally rehabilitated by a therapy dog team.
Children learn far more from a trained therapy dog and handler than from a dog at home no one has time to care for or train. With a therapy dog and handler, the child is never knocked down or bitten, and the child learns the best of dog behavior. The most important period to learn this may end at around age six. This benefit is also important for any child with a disability who might have a trained assistance dog partner later in life. He or she will need to be able to bond and communicate with a dog.