therapydogarticle Did you know that dogs and other pets can play a valuable role in healing people with special needs? In the field of pet therapy, dogs can help people with a variety of physical, mental and emotional disabilities. Let’s talk about some of the qualities of therapy dogs that make them so beneficial to those that need them, according to pet experts Doctors Foster and Smith.

  • First of all, their physical appearance is warm and fuzzy, and they are full of life. Just holding and petting a therapy dog can provide a great deal of comfort.
  • Pets never judge or criticize their owners. It doesn’t matter what mistakes you may make in your life, your dog will never hold them against you. Dogs accept you just the way you are.
  • Pets are often very trusting, so they can help us find trust in ourselves and in others. Through watching them, we realize that we are also dependent and have to rely on others at times.
  • Therapy dogs provide unconditional love. Dogs are often able to tell when their owners need some cheering up and they respond by being attentive. They tune in to the emotional state of their owners and react accordingly.
  • Therapy dogs make great listeners. Unlike people, dogs don’t interrupt you while you are talking to share their opinions with you.
  • Therapy dogs make their owners feel needed and important. When you are needed, it can be comforting to know it. When you adopt a dog from an animal shelter, you are saving the life of an animal that really needs you. Coming home to your dog after a long day’s work or even a short jaunt can be really inspiring. Even if you had a horrible day at work, your dog is always going to be happy to greet you. By providing dogs with food, water, grooming and exercise, we fulfill their needs.
  • Dogs can be rather entertaining at times. Some dogs act like clowns, which can be quite refreshing. Dog owners get to watch them or join in with them playing. We can act silly right along with them and again, they won’t judge us. Dogs have fun qualities that lift the spirits of those who have special needs.
  • Children who have Down’s syndrome and other disabilities especially benefit from interacting with animals. Pet therapy helps them learn about caring for other living things. It teaches them about nutrition, following instructions and how to be gentle with others.
  • Emotionally ill children respond well to therapy dogs, as they often feel the animal is listening and understanding them. These kids get to feel needed, important and loved. Through this, they become able to take the risk to trust and love other people.
  • Physically handicapped individuals may also benefit from therapy dogs. This is true particularly if the dog has a handicap as well. These dogs become a source of inspiration.
  • For those who are diagnosed with a terminal illness, therapy dogs are especially appreciated. People who are suffering from cancer, AIDS or other diseases that cause them to be bedridden will be far less likely to struggle with depression if they have a therapy dog. These animals offer a level of support and comfort that is truly unique.
  • For those who live in long-term care situations like nursing homes, therapy dogs can influence them positively. Their mental health, physical activity, social interaction and communication abilities may improve.
  • Prisoners and at-risk youth may also benefit from therapy dogs. Therapy dogs help to instill confidence and teach new skills. By becoming responsible for the welfare of an animal that needs them, they can get a new outlook on life.

According to the Alliance of Therapy Dogs, there are several things that are required in order for a dog to be certified as a therapy animal.

  • The dog should be at least 1 year old, and should be good when around other dogs.
  • He or she should be a good listener for their handler.
  • Okay with being touched all over by strangers
  • Doesn’t jump on people
  • Will walk on a leash without pulling
  • Doesn’t mind strange noises and smells
  • Is accepting of frequent petting
  • Not afraid of those who are unable to walk steadily
  • Up to date on all vaccinations
  • Has had a negative fecal test every 12 months
  • Is well-groomed and clean

Are you in need of a therapy dog for yourself or someone you love? The American Kennel Club provides a list of professional therapy dog organizations that can hook you up with a new canine friend.