Dogs have always been man’s best friend and for good reason but there’s a particular group of dogs that stands out from the pack and they are therapy dogs. Therapy dogs have under gone special training and meet certain requirements in order to provide affection and comfort to people in hospitals, retirement homes, nursing homes, schools, hospices, disaster areas, and to people with autism. There is a difference between therapy dogs and service dogs and normally one dog is not both but its not impossible. Not to mention dogs inherently have a therapeutic effect on people so training them in the art of comforting can really only make a good thing great.
Now you may have just read therapy dog and without even realizing it thought service dogs, don’t worry it’s a common mistake but they are not the same thing. Just like service dogs, therapy dogs go through extensive training and work to improve people’s quality of life but there are some key differences. The dogs you see sporting the “Please Don’t Pet Me” vest are service dogs and their job is to help their disabled handler to achieve a safety and independence that they would otherwise not have. Therapy dogs don’t get a fancy jacket but they are just as important as service dogs. A therapy dog’s job is to provide psychological or physiological therapy to individuals typically, other than their handlers. This means they don’t live with the person they are helping instead they visit places like hospitals, nursing homes, or schools to help people there.
So what exactly does a dog have to do in order to earn the title therapy dog? To start they must be tested by a certified TDI, Therapy Dogs International, evaluator which can be found all over the country. Dogs must be at least one-year-old, healthy, and up to date on all shots. The test consists of two phases and thirteen different parts which include test such as reactions to unusual situations, reaction to children, and reaction to other dogs. The evaluation isn’t only during the actual testing either; it begins the minute the evaluator can observe you and your dog and how you interact.
Now that you know exactly what a therapy dog is let me tell you why they’re so important. It has been studied extensively and shown that spending time with therapy dogs help to lower blood pressure as well as Epinephrine and Norepinephrine, essential neurotransmitters that stimulate the nervous system. The interaction between people and therapy dogs also increases endorphin and oxytocin levels, the substances your body produces to give you that natural runners high.
By this point you’ve probably thought “Wow I never knew how much unrealized potential there is in Fluffy!” and while that may be true keep in mind a training a therapy dog is no small task and usually begins at in the puppy stage. So while Fluffy may never get certified that doesn’t mean you can’t go visit another therapy dog or thank their owner for dedicating their time to helping others with a little bit of puppy love.