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Therapy Dogs In Hospitals and Hospices

Posted by Richard Massafra on

Why Dogs Can Be Great Therapy for Humans

Some 17,000 years ago, humans first began to domesticate dogs from their feral ancestors, the wolves. Since then, dogs have been bred into a many large and small varieties.

They have been given jobs, such as shepherds’ helpers and guardians of our valuables when we are away. They pull sleds and rescue us when we get trapped in the snow. They guide us if our eyesight fails us, and for millions and millions of people they provide daily companionship and loyal friendship.

It is of little wonder then that the medical profession is also taking a closer look at our canine companions to see if there is a way that perhaps dogs can help out in the medical treatments of people.

Benefits of Pet Therapy in Hospitals 

Did you know that more and more institutional settings have recognized the therapeutic value of man’s best friend? It is true! Dogs have become a great therapy tool for their human counterparts. Nursing homes, hospitals, and institutions that specialize in the care of those suffering from mental and physical handicaps are increasingly turning to specially trained canines for the therapeutic benefits that dog – human interactions offer.

The reasons for the effectiveness of dog therapy are plentiful: Patients who are confined to a hospital bed will gain something to look forward to, such as the weekly visit of a therapy dog. Very often patients will remember the happy times they themselves may have experienced with their own pets. So it will give them an opportunity to give love to a dog and bring back memories.

Anyone who has ever had to spend a few days or weeks in a hospital will remember just how lonely it is to remain behind when friends and family leave, and day in and day out this loneliness very easily builds up.

How Service Dogs Help Children

Children who have suffered severe trauma and may have withdrawn from the world by refusing to speak or interact with adults may choose to interact with an animal that makes no demands and wields no clipboard but instead is content to just sit with them.

Many times children who are electively mute can be observed whispering commands to a dog to sit or stay, or even just to fetch a little ball.Children who suffer from physical impairments will benefit from the challenge to walk beside their canine visitor, or even throw a ball.

The dogs that are used in therapy outreach programs have been tested and evaluated with respect to their temper, their ability to adapt to changing situations, their willingness to be handled by strangers, and their calm demeanor even in a room full of children who may not be so calm.

In addition to the foregoing, these dogs are able to tolerate other dogs in the same facilities, so that there will be no barking and negative interactions that could affect their beneficial interactions with the people.

Heart Health and Dogs

On November 15, 2005 the American Heart Association released an interesting study result, which evidenced that a visit with a dog for as little as twelve minutes has the power to lower blood pressure and to reduce the production of harmful hormones in hypertension sufferers!

An extended benefit is the calming effect that a little tail-wagging dog can have on even the busiest doctor and the most harried nurse. Easing a bit of the workday tension will translate into a calmer physician at the bedside of the patient and a more pleasant doctor-patient interaction.

Of course, if you are a dog owner, you might wonder if your canine friend is cut out to be a therapy dog. There are a variety of therapy dog associations out there that will be happy to test your furry friend, and also train her/him and you, but possibly some giveaways that your dog is a good candidate are:

      • He is comfortable around people as well as other dogs and does not bark, snarl or growl at them.

      • The groomer and the vet do not don protective gear when working with your pet.

      • Your dog does not show fear of people who wear hats, use a cane, hold on to a walker, or have dangly jewelry.

    • Your dog likes children.

Perhaps Charles Schulz said it best when he coined that unforgettable phrase “happiness is a warm puppy.” 


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