Various scientists and experts in the field have confirmed that having a dog as a pet at home is comforting; and improves mood. It also relieves loneliness, reduces stress and depression, increases self-esteem; and even reduces blood pressure, among other benefits. For that reason, more and more dogs are used in different types of therapies; such as occupational therapy, physical therapy, or psychotherapy. But what do therapy dogs do? What are the best breeds to be therapy dogs? In this article, we will provide you with the necessary information, and thus, clear those doubts. Don’t stop reading!
First, we must know that there are three main categories of dogs that can help people.
1. Therapy dogs.
These furry friends are used in various fields. For example, they are used in hospitals or clinics, in pedagogical consultations, nursing homes and also in schools. They are dogs that were previously trained and are now part of a multidisciplinary team, made up of health and education professionals, who help improve the interpersonal and social contact of patients, as well as favor their physical and mental activity.
2. Assistance dogs.
Assistance dogs have the mission of living together and accompanying people with physical, mental or emotional limitations. It even helps these people with various simple tasks such as opening the door, taking an object to its owner, etc. A guide dog is the best example of an assistance dog; that helps a blind person to move to different places, significantly reducing the risks of accidents.
3. Visiting dogs.
These dogs have the purpose is to connect with the human to encourage social contact (without healing purpose). In other words, visiting dogs are only tasked with accompanying people in difficult situations.
Areas of work of a therapy dog
All of us who have a dog at home, know the positive effects they have on people. For this reason, more and more therapists and health personnel are using dogs to improve treatments: depression, anxiety disorders, language problems, learning difficulties and other physical or mental limitations. The field of application of dog therapy encompasses almost all therapeutic fields:
- Occupational therapy
- Educational therapy, mainly with children.
- Special education
How do therapy dogs work?
Therapy dogs accompany their caregivers in different individual or group therapeutic sessions and are available to attendees in different ways.
It is important to mention that there are active therapeutic dogs, which encourage the patient to do something dynamic. And passive therapy dogs, who observe, wait and react empathetically to patients’ sensitivities.
These dogs are always in contact with very different people; one day you may have contact with a person who has speech problems. Another day, he has to work with a person with difficulty moving; and then, you’ll be with someone who has emotional problems. In addition, it does not discriminate age or gender of patients. Therapy dogs should be able to empathize with the uniqueness of each patient.
That is why it is very important that the working conditions for a therapy dog must be adequate. Never forget that the dog has needs that must be met. For example, a good diet, going for a walk, playing and socializing with other dogs.
Due to the stressful situations they may experience, experts recommend that dogs that help in animal-assisted therapies not work more than 45 minutes, three times a week. But if there are several dogs that can alternate between each consultation, they can work up to two hours per day.
Achievements of Therapy Dogs
As we mentioned earlier, the company of a dog, has important advantages in people. And therapy dogs can influence humans in many ways and the benefits are seen in both physical and psychological aspects. Here are some of those benefits:
- The reinforcement of emotional stability, the elimination of fears and aggressiveness
- Stress reduction
- Relaxation of muscles
- Reduction of blood pressure and pulse
- Promotion of the senses and body perception
- Improved motor skills and language skills
- Mitigation of balance problems and cognitive dysfunctions
- Promoting interaction and communication
- Increased attention and sense of responsibility
- Improving self-esteem and promoting social integration
- An increase in concentration, memory and reactive capacity and its consequent increase in performance.
Training for therapy dogs
Not all dogs have the qualities or aptitudes to be part of a therapeutic group. Dogs that are stubborn or have a high protective instinct and are very territorial are not suitable.
The success of a therapy dog is determined by an open and pleasant character, a high sensitivity and low aggressiveness. Qualities that should be encouraged since they are puppies. Adequate training and high socialization are basic elements to be a therapy dog. In order for a dog to be considered in any therapy, regardless of its breed it must meet some requirements.
Requirements to be a therapy dog
The essential qualities of a therapy dog are as follows:
- Be calm, peaceful and patient in nature
- Have a close bond with your caregiver
- Be open and pleasant, even with strangers
- Be calm in character
- Have little or no aggressiveness
- Be obedient and docile
- Have good social behavior
- Be not very territorial
- No protective impulse
- Be kind to strangers
- Be sensitive and resistant to stress
- Have a lot of tolerance for frustration.
Therapy dog breeds
It does not matter the breed of the dog as long as it meets the requirements named above. However, there are certain breeds that due to their nature have all the characteristics to be a good therapy dog. Below, we present some of the most common breeds that are used as therapy dogs.
1. Labrador Retriever
Sociable and intelligent. They respond very effectively to training tasks.
2. Golden Retriever
They are very quiet despite their large size, and enjoy a special sensitivity to detect emotions, both in children and adults. For this reason, it is usually the most common breed when performing interventions in hospitals, schools, or residences of the 3rd age.
3. German Shepherd
In addition to being intelligent, they are dogs with a high level of confidence and self-confidence.
4. King Charles Spaniel
Small in size, obedient, and extremely affectionate and sociable. It is ideal for interacting with those individuals who show a certain “fear” of large dogs.
More than recognized for his intelligence and his ability to learn. Their physiognomy of “stuffed animals” brings them very close to interacting with children when they intervene in school therapies
6. Border Collie
The smartest dog in the world. For that reason, it is a dog that manages to empathize with people’s emotions, it is very easy to train. In addition, it is a medium dog that socializes very easily with other species.
There are other breeds of dogs that also have the requirements to be therapy, such as the Maltese, Pug, Hungarian braco, the Bernese mountain cattle, Australian shepherd, St. Bernard, Newfoundland and the Beagle.
Rules for therapy dogs
The health and hygiene of therapy dogs are extremely important factors. The dog has to be healthy. A dog in pain may react aggressively or not want to participate in therapeutic activities.