What is a Therapy Dog?
Recent studies have proved that canine companionship brings a number of health benefits, such as lower blood pressure, lower triglyceride and cholesterol levels, as well as increased production of serotonin and dopamine.
One explanation for these therapeutic effects is that a dog fulfills the most basic human need to touch. The companionship of a dog can help to calm and soothe us, ease anxiety and boost our mood. Stroking, holding and fussing over a canine friend helps reduce our sense of isolation and loneliness.
If we accept all of the above, then we also accept that a dog is therapeutic. Young and old, fit and frail, alert and impaired, all of us can benefit from the presence of a dog.
There are two ways that therapy dogs can help:
- Animal Assisted Activities (AAA)
- Animal Assisted Therapy (AAT)
Animal Assisted Activities are casual activities where people and pets connect. Irish Therapy Dogs visit Care Centres and enrich the lives of people there by interacting with them. These visits help make difficult situations somewhat easier for the people involved. The dogs do not need any specialised training, but it is important that they are friendly, gentle, confident, patient and at ease in any situation. They must enjoy human company and be happy to be petted and handled. The suitability of both the owner and dog, working as a team, is subject to a formal assessment process.
Animal Assisted Therapy is when an animal such as a therapy dog is an important part of a person’s physical, social, and emotional therapy activities. A therapist might work with a person and a therapy dog to improve his/her physical fitness. Dog grooming, walking and even ball throwing can help with coordination, strength, and flexibility. These dogs require special training and work intensely on a one-to-one basis.