Dogs are man’s best friend. This is a statement to which there is not much more to say. For this reason, many dog owners also say that life without a dog would not be worth living. Maybe this is a little too much of a good thing, but the quintessence is captured in any case. Thus it is also not surprising that dogs are used for therapeutic support with large and small patients. The call for this form of support is becoming louder and louder.
From a psychological point of view, touching, stroking a dog can open many blockades, many doors. But also in other medical fields, where we have to deal with lengthy, painful therapies, the dog is a great asset.
He is able to make the person he is with feel, within seconds, that he deserves all the love the dog has to give and receives it without hesitation, without evaluation. Whether he wants it or not! Dogs used for therapeutic support are, there is no other way to put it, angels on four paws.
What is the definition of a therapy dog?
Somehow, every dog is a therapy dog. After all, it reaches everyone’s heart within seconds. If you believe Hildegard von Bingen, it is enough to give a dog to a sick person to let the soul, the origin of any disease, recover.
One thing is very important: a therapy dog, according to the concrete definition, always acts as a team with its owner. However, the dog is naturally in the foreground.
The therapy dog is literally brought together with his “patients” on site, in the therapeutic practice, in the old people’s home, in the hospital and in the hospice. Wherever people need the open, non-judgmental nature of the animal, the owner will take his teammate and remain by his side at all times for his protection and safety. The dog is not sent to the patient alone. In most cases, the therapist, a nurse, a geriatric nurse is also present. In this way, the patients are also protected.
Another name for therapy dog is petting dog. Because primarily the touch, the stroking of the animal, its quiet listening is the actual therapy measure, which it “carries out”.
What kind of dog is suitable for work as a therapy dog?
In principle, first of all, any breed of dog is suitable for training as a therapy dog. Of course, it ultimately depends on the individual suitability, on the character, the personality of the animal. Of course, at first most people think of the Labrador, the Golden Retriever, maybe even the Poodle when they hear the term “therapy dog”. They bring the right characteristics innately, which are necessary for this “profession”:
- Strong nerves
- Love for people (no matter which one)
- “Will to please”
- Ability to learn
- Willingness to learn
- Inner calmness and composure, no matter what happens
This is a trait that many dogs can bring with them, including mixed breeds that come from shelters. Conversely, of course, a Golden Retriever or Labrador may not be able to become a therapy dog because one or another of the prerequisites is not present in that individual. To find this out, one should go to an appropriate training center for therapy dogs and complete the training. In this way, the dog can be put through its paces by qualified personnel. In case of exclusion, the training is not even started.
With other animals it shows up in the training process whether they will work in the end as a therapy dog or not. By the way, at the end there is a final exam and dog and owner get a certificate. Only then should you take your dog to the facilities and do so regularly. This way the dog does not forget the lessons. And the patients always have a specific date in mind when something very special will distract them from everyday life or get them out of their lethargy – at least for a few short minutes.
But we are not only dealing with lethargic people. Some are nervous and jittery. Others can’t keep their arms still and flail about uncontrollably and, above all, unpredictably. Still others are very loud, others need to be brought out of their mouse corner to warm up to the dog and therapist. No matter what the dog is facing at the moment, he must face all of this calmly and serenely and do exactly what is expected of a dog: Unconditionally accept the person he is facing and take him to his heart in dog fashion.
The same applies, by the way, to the places where he is used. Neither the smells of a hospital, a hospice or an old people’s home, nor the equipment that is in the rooms and makes strange noises must impress or even frighten him. But even these scenarios are practiced during training.
How can one imagine the visit of a therapy dog?
Especially long-term therapy, which has to take place in the hospital, or stays in the nursing home, in the dementia commune represent a strong mental burden for the patient. Contact with the outside world is usually extremely reduced. The dogs bring a breath of fresh air into everyday life – they are the highlight, so to speak, and are intended to do one thing above all: bring the patient to other thoughts.
In order to understand this, we ask ourselves nevertheless once, what happens with us, if we stroke our dog. Exactly, we relax almost instantly. Stroking a dog, running through its fur, makes us forget the worries of everyday life. And this is exactly the reaction they cause in patients in the hospital, residents of the nursing home.
It does not matter whether they are bedridden or can get up. The positive effect on the patient’s psyche can be observed in all of them. With one stronger, with the other somewhat weaker. But it is ALWAYS present. And that is exactly why therapy dogs are increasingly allowed to do their work in institutions.
The exact course of a visit…
… is always dependent on the circumstances on site. Of course it is nice to have a group of people in a room together with one or even more dogs to experience an appointment. Especially when the dogs can run free and go to anyone who offers. But this is not always possible.
To the bedridden people the dog can be brought. Either he is big enough that they can reach out of the bed. Or it can be placed on the bedspread. Both options are done. Here it is important that the dog owner can improvise well, so that everyone who wants to get a dog visit.
At the same time, the dog must not be overburdened in any case. The owner must know him very well and know how much the dog can take and when it is time to take a break or call it a day. This responsibility lies with the handler. Of course, everyone who wants to should be able to enjoy it. So, if necessary, either several dogs must be used or several appointments must be made. Let’s not forget one thing: only as long as the dog is doing well, the visits can continue. So it is in everyone’s interest if good care is taken of the four-legged friend.
Only “petting zoo”?
By no means is it. Because the entertaining distraction of seriously ill people or home residents is only one possible application for a therapy dog. They are also used in the daily practice of occupational, speech, learning and psychotherapists. Whether he is used here to calm the patient, for the cuddle break or in relation to the emotions and memories, is actually not important. Because the therapist is oriented in this regard to the needs of the patient and puts the dog accordingly to it.
While for one it is important to know the dog “only” with him to become calmer, the other may need to brush the dog or play with him a little to achieve the therapy goal. Joint games are also conceivable. Options that target the different demands are learned by the team in the training to become a therapy dog.
How all these options are then implemented is based on both experience, which is also taught, and intuition and imagination of the therapist. In this point it is necessary to adapt the application possibilities to the abilities of the dog as well as to the needs of the patient. Because both should have one thing above all – fun!
Attention: Danger of confusion
Therapy dogs should not be confused with the assistance or service dog. We often see these in the form of a guide dog with its owner in everyday life in the streets, shopping or other places. However, assistance dogs are not to be reduced to the guide dog.
There are many options to use them in everyday life. Certainly, they cannot replace the blind person’s eyesight. But they can indicate certain things like traffic lights, street crossings or stairs so that their master can adjust to them. Assistance dogs also have certain special rights. For example, they are allowed to go with their owner to the supermarket or to offices and with them to the doctor’s office.
In addition to the task as a guide dog, the assistance dog can also be used as an early warning dog, for example, if the person suffers from epilepsy, narcolepsy or a similarly serious disease that strikes without warning. In the process, the dogs react to the various reactions and emotions of their owner. Even through the composition of their excretions, including sweat and saliva, they can detect possible signs that would escape any human and sound the alarm accordingly.
They live permanently with their “patient” and simultaneous dog owner. The therapy dog, on the other hand, is only ever with his patients for a short period of time and then leaves their place of residence again. Some he sees only once or twice. Others he accompanies over a longer period. After his “closing time”, however, the therapy dog is once again a normal house and family dog with whom one can steal horses and forget about time.
Training for dog and master
No, it’s not quite as simple as going off and walking into the nearest facility for the elderly or hospice to please people. Not all unfortunately of the facilities are positive about animal visits. This is very unfortunate for the residents, but unfortunately cannot be changed on the part of the dog handlers. However, this is exactly the reason why a solid training with a certified final exam is necessary.
The better the teams are trained and the positive successes and experiences get around in the appropriate therapy and facility circles, the more of the dog teams can be used until finally everyone who wants animal-assisted therapy can receive it.
Nervousness is important for dog owners as well as the dog. Because sometimes it can be quite rough as a therapy dog. There is packed times so correctly strongly into the fur that it pinches already. There one is jostled times that one (thus the dog) sits down smoothly on the trouser bottom. In such a moment shows the good relationship between owner and dog, without which it goes. Because as the owner must rely on the composure, on the peaceableness of his dog, the dog may rely on the fact that the owner always puts himself protectively before him, if it should come to an incident. After all, you never know.
“Overwork” the dog, of course, should not. It is recommended that you never leave him on the job for more than 45 minutes at a time per day. More than 3 days, with one rest day in between, he should not have to work. Because his main job is still family dog.
As a therapy dog a job with the police
Who now says that this does not exist, has unfortunately lost. Because this position is actually filled. In 2017, the police in Essen started this political project and brought “Peng” into the team as a victim protection dog. Especially after accidents, he accompanies the police officers to the scene and “takes care” of the accident victims.
He has a calming effect, not only on the children. He often makes it possible for the victims to open up and describe how the accident happened. The project was very successful, so that at least in Essen this position could now be filled permanently by “Peng”. It would be nice if this option could gain a foothold throughout USA.
In principle, yes. However, this of course depends on the character of the animal, his personality and his individual disposition to deal with stress, strange people and environments. Only conditionally can teach him these skills. However, it is true to say that different breeds of dogs are better suited to this than others because of their breed-related potential. Nevertheless, it is important to look at each dog individually before using it as a therapy dog.
Training as a therapy dog should begin as early as possible. Every impression, every lesson that the dog picks up from the first day of life will shape him. Certainly, attention must be paid to his puppy rhythm during the first 2 years of life. Nevertheless, many lessons and especially the most different impressions of all kinds can be absorbed and sorted. The more impressions the dog can get to know before he starts the proper training to become a therapy dog, the better he will master them.
No, without a therapist, the dog cannot be included in animal-assisted therapy. This means that the dog is never alone with the patient. The dog’s owner will always be within reach. The location does not matter in this regard. Man and animal are a team, a unit. No one begins his work without the other.
No, the working hours should be strongly regulated so that the dog does not lose the fun of the work. It is best not to exceed 45 minutes per day and a maximum of 3 working days per week.
Whether it is a young or an old dog, the lessons should be repeated every day. On days when he is at home, they are just gone through there, in dry land, so to speak. It is important that it always remains a quiet game for the dog, where he can help the people to feel better. With their fine antennas, the dogs sense this with each individual human. So that these antennas are not overstimulated, the dog needs the consistent division of labor.