Therapy dogs and their benefits for people | Vets&Clinics

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Therapy dogs and their benefits for people

Lots of people agree that owning a pet can significantly improve one’s physical, mental and emotional health.

Without having to look too far, we recently published an article in this blog, based on scientific studies conducted by the Affinity Foundation group Animales y Salud (Animals and Health), about all the benefits that dogs can offer their owners, ranging from being less prone to illnesses, to having a fuller and happier life. 

Bond between people and pets

Therapy dogs

All these benefits are further amplified in the case of therapy dogs. These animals have undergone training and been integrated into a multidisciplinary team of health and education professionals. They help improve patients’ interpersonal and social contact, as well as stimulate their physical and mental activity. In other words, the use of therapy dogs mainly helps focus on four specific aspects or areas:

Four main areas:

1. Physical

 Exercises in which the patient is required to move, get up, walk or even run with the dog and, above all, interact with it in order to regain lost mobility. 

2. Cognitive

This area mainly works on the patient’s memory. It tends to involve exercises that help patients remember the breed, size, colour and other characteristics of their pet.

3. Emotional

Therapy dogs play a very important role in this area. The aim is for people to open up and allow their feelings to surface. In this regard the pet serves as a vehicle to help owners remember and discuss issues or situations that have been important in their life.

4. Relational

Last but not least, therapy dogs can assist with relationships. Here work focuses directly on motivation, allowing patients to relate to their environment and especially other people, so that they may feel safe and assured about going out. In this regard, the support and company of a therapy dog are essential. 

Characteristics of therapy dogs

At this point, we must ask ourselves an obvious question – can any dog become a therapy dog? No, most definitely not. In one way or another, therapy dogs have been born to their calling and they possess some very special characteristics. Therapy dogs must be:

  • very placid, with a calm and balanced nature;
  • manageable and predictable;
  • reliable, owners must feel certain that the animal will become impatient or react badly;
  • strong and healthy;
  • happy in the company of people and enjoy social contact; and
  • obedient, that is, understand the fundamental commands required for their control: sit, lie down, stay and come.

Positive training and skills

In addition to all the above characteristics, therapy dogs must have some special skills if they are to be trained correctly. These skills are nothing out of the ordinary, but they must have the dexterity to understand and perform the exercises required to achieve the goals.

A positive attitude constitutes the basis for training therapy dogs. This means rewarding dogs when they do what is asked of them and ignoring or redirecting negative or unwanted behaviours.

Dogs should be rewarded with their favourite items, whether it be food or a toy. As such, they eventually see therapy as a game – something fun and entertaining that dogs mind repeating as many times as necessary. 

Selection process

As with any job, it is not easy to select the best candidates for training as therapy dogs. So, before selecting a dog and incorporating it into an institution, the Affinity Foundation makes sure that it has the appropriate skills required to do its job in the best possible way.

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