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How to Turn Your Pet Into Therapy Dog

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Friday, 04 March 2016 10:45 AM

Want to turn your dog into a therapy dog? If you think your pet has what it takes to be a service dog for people with chronic diseases, a variety of therapy pet training programs can help get you started.

The Good Dog Foundation, example, offers a six-week course that certifies pets to visit patients in hospitals and nursing homes, veterans affairs facilities, children in schools, and people in other venues that benefit from the company of well-behaved animals, The New York Times reports.

Training typically involves dogs and their owners, in groups of four to eight pairs, who learn to give and receive basic commands (stay, sit, lie down). Therapeutic dogs can be any size or breed, but must be housebroken, nonaggressive, and not fearful of strangers, loud noises, wheelchairs, or elevators. A good temperament is also critical.

Trainers explain that a dog that barks incessantly, bites, or jumps on people do not have what it takes to be therapeutic animals.

Experts explain that therapy pets differ from service animals that guide the blind, detect impending health crises for people with epilepsy or diabetes, or stimulate learning for children with autism or cerebral palsy.

Pet therapy most often involves privately owned animals — usually dogs, but also cats, rabbits, even kangaroos, birds, fish, and reptiles — that their owners take to facilities to enhance the well-being of patients and residents.

In addition to relieving the monotony of a hospital stay or a nursing home, such animals also visits schools where shy children may be more likely to interact with animals than other kids, experts say.

Cynthia Chandler, a professor at the University of North Texas and author of “Animal Assisted Therapy in Counseling,” says visits by her dog Bailey increased patient participation in group therapy and improved hygiene and self-care among those with severe mental illness.

A number of studies and projects have confirmed the healing power of therapy pets, The Times reports:
  • Research has shown that after just 20 minutes with a therapy dog, patients’ levels of stress hormones drop and pain-reducing endorphins rise.
  • In elderly patients with dementia, depression declines after they interact with a therapy animal.
  • Researchers at the University of Southern Maine found that therapy dog visits can calm agitation in patients with severe dementia.
  • A University of California-Los Angeles study of therapy dog visits among heart disease patients found a significant reduction in anxiety and blood pressure of those who spent just 12 minutes with a visiting animal.
  • At Veterans Affairs hospitals, therapy dogs and even pet parrots have reduced anxiety and other symptoms among patients with post-traumatic stress disorder, studies have shown.
  • Shelter dogs used in prisons have helped some inmates manage anger and violence issues; they learn compassionate behavior, gain a sense of purpose, and experience unconditional love from the dogs in their care.
  • A project designed to help veterans back from service in Iraq and Afghanistan work with therapy dogs has helped many readjust to being home and deal with PTSD and other issues.
In these and other initiatives, specialists say therapy dogs are often better than any medicine.

“The presence of therapy dogs makes such a difference,” says Valerie Abel, a psychologist who runs the pet therapy program at the Brooklyn Veterans Affairs hospital. “Many ask when they’ll next be back. A big dog can put its head on patients’ beds and you can actually see them relax.”

Before signing up for therapy dog training, research programs in your area, find out what they cost, and try to determine ahead of time what is required of you by the facilities you hope to visit.

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Think your pet has what it takes to be a service dog for people with chronic diseases? A variety of therapy pet training programs can help get you started.
therapy, pet, dog, patient, health, hospital, senior, nursing, home
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2016-45-04
Friday, 04 March 2016 10:45 AM
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