What is a therapy dog?

Household 2 min read

In recent years, medical professionals have begun recognizing dogs for the healing benefits they can provide. Some pets have started taking on roles as therapy animals. Therapy dogs typically visit locations such as schools, senior care centers, hospitals, and other volunteer settings alongside their owner. Dr. Jamie Whittenburg (DVM) — veterinarian at SeniorTailWaggers.com and director of Kingsgate Animal Hospital in Texas — passed on some information about the benefits of pet therapy and what therapy pets do.

What are the benefits of pet therapy?

While therapy pets provide plenty of happiness to their owners, Dr. Whittenburg says a therapy animal’s purpose is to serve others. They provide companionship and comfort to help improve people’s daily lives.

Therapy animals, most often dogs, extend affection to the people they work with and provide a calming presence to those open to the experience. Dr. Whittenburg points out that dog-assisted therapy can be valuable to many people, from sick and injured patients to elderly or lonely people and those struggling with mental health. Therapy pets can provide many benefits, including:

  • Comforting people after a traumatic experience
  • Assisting in mental health therapy
  • Consoling lonely people
  • Bringing happiness to patients in the hospital
  • Acting as a nonjudgmental presence to children with learning difficulties

Using pets as therapy has been proven to help many people, but it’s also important to note that it doesn’t work for everyone. Not everyone appreciates a visit with a therapy dog. Perhaps they have previous trauma involving a dog, they’re allergic, or they don’t feel the desire to spend time with a dog. Whatever their reason, Dr. Whittenburg says that you should respect each person’s preference.

Are therapy dogs the same as service dogs?

Therapy dogs are not the same as service dogs. Service dogs receive training to assist their owner, not to interact with others while working. Another difference between the two is the service they perform. Therapy dogs typically provide emotional and psychological comfort, whereas service dogs commonly help people with physical disabilities.

Dr. Whittenburg also points out that the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) doesn’t extend to therapy dogs. Service dogs are typically allowed wherever their owner goes, but therapy dogs do not have the same rights to public access.

Can any dog be a therapy animal?

Just about any animal can work as a therapy pet. To accomplish their objectives of comforting people, therapy animals should be calm, friendly, well-behaved, and well-trained. An animal prone to stress might not be the best fit. Additionally, all therapy pets should eat healthily and be fully updated on their vaccinations. It’s also beneficial to ensure your pet is protected by pet insurance.

For therapy dogs, Dr. Whittenburg points out that they come in all shapes and sizes. There isn’t a specific breed that works best. The main element to consider is the dog’s temperament and personality.
Dr. Whittenburg recommends that all therapy dogs pass the American Kennel Club’s Canine Good Citizen test. Going through this program teaches dogs to interact well with new people and adopt good manners.

If you’d like to have your dog serve your community as a therapy dog, Dr. Whittenburg says that most areas around the country have a local therapy dog association. Reach out to an organization near you for guidance on ways you can get started with your dog.

If you consider putting your pet to work as a therapy animal, consider pet insurance and learn how pet insurance works.

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