There is no greater therapy than the love of a dog

By Deb Young

There is no greater therapy than the love of a dog.

This animal/human love bond is demonstrated every day in millions of homes around the world. It is also the basis for what is becoming a powerful, common mode of therapy in many facilities.

A therapy dog is a dog trained to provide affection and comfort to people in hospitals, nursing homes, schools and hospices, people with learning difficulties, and stressful situations, such as disaster areas.

Therapy dogs come in all sizes and breeds. The most important characteristic of a therapy dog is its temperament. A good therapy dog must be friendly, patient, confident, gentle, and at ease in all situations. Therapy dogs must enjoy human contact and be content to be petted and handled, sometimes clumsily.

A therapy dog’s primary job is to allow unfamiliar people to make physical contact with it and to enjoy that contact. Children in particular enjoy hugging animals; adults usually enjoy simply petting the dog. The dog might need to be lifted onto, or climb onto, an individual’s lap or bed and sit or lie comfortably there. Many dogs contribute to the visiting experience by performing small tricks for their audience or by playing carefully structured games. In hospice environments, therapy dogs can play a role in palliative care by reducing death anxiety.

There are three types of Therapy Dogs. “Facility Therapy Dogs” and “Animal Assisted Therapy Dogs” assist physical and occupational therapists in meeting goals important to a person’s recovery. The most common Therapy Dogs are “Therapeutic Visitation Dogs”. These dogs are household pets whose owners take time to visit hospitals, nursing homes, detention facilities, and rehabilitation facilities. Therapeutic Visitation Dogs help people who are away from home due to mental or physical illness or court order. These people miss their pets, and a visit from a visitation dog can brighten their day and lift their spirits. For some, it helps motivate them in their therapy or treatment, reminding them of their own pets waiting for them at home.

The presence of an animal can help facilitate a discussion with human counselors or simply provide wordless emotional release.

In situations like the Newtown shootings, it makes a lot of sense that dogs would be an effective form of comfort. Dogs are social creatures that respond to us quite sensitively, and they seem to respond to our emotions.

The response was extraordinary, Nearly all of the dogs came over to nuzzle or lick the crying person, whether it was the owner or a stranger.

To some, the idea of sending a dog to a grieving person might seem too simplistic. But that very simplicity is part of what makes the connection between humans and canines so powerful.

When humans show us affection, it’s quite a complicated thing that involves expectations and judgments, But with a dog, it’s a very uncomplicated, nonchallenging interaction with no consequences. And if you’ve been through a hard time, it’s lovely to have that.

Indeed, there is no greater therapy than the love of a dog.

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