Therapy Dog refers to a
to provide affection and comfort to people in
and stressful situations such as
The concept of a therapy dog is often attributed to
Elaine Smith, an American who worked as a
registered nurse for a time in
Smith noticed how well patients responded to visits by a certain chaplain and
his canine companion, a
Golden Retriever. Upon returning to the
United States in 1976, Smith started a program for training dogs to visit
institutions. Over the years other health care professionals have noticed the
therapeutic effect of animal companionship, such as relieving stress, lowering
blood pressure, and raising spirits, and the demand for therapy dogs continues
to grow. In recent years, therapy dogs have been enlisted to help children
overcome speech and emotional disorders. The concept has widened to include
other species, specifically
therapy rabbits, and
Therapy dogs come in all sizes and breeds. The most important aspect of a
therapy dog is temperament. A good therapy dog must be friendly, patient,
confident, at ease in all situations, and gentle. Therapy dogs must enjoy human
contact and be content to be petted and handled, sometimes clumsily.
A therapy dog's primary job is to allow unfamiliar people to make physical
contact with him and to enjoy that contact. Children in particular enjoy hugging
animals; adults usually enjoy simply petting the dog. The dog might need to be
lifted onto, or climb onto, an invalid's lap or bed and sit or lie comfortably
there. Many dogs add to the visiting experience by performing small tricks for
their audiences or by playing carefully structured games.
It is important to note that therapy dogs are not
dogs. Service dogs directly assist humans, and have a legal right to
accompany their owners. Therapy dogs do not provide direct assistance, do not
have legal rights to travel everywhere, and must be invited by institutions.
Most institutions have rigorous requirements for therapy dogs.
Many organizations provide testing and accreditation for therapy dogs. Most
require that a dog pass the equivalent of the
Canine Good Citizen test, and then add further requirements specific to the
environments in which the dogs will be working. Typical tests might ensure that
a dog can handle sudden loud or strange noises, can walk on assorted unfamiliar
surfaces comfortably, are not frightened by people with canes, wheelchairs, or
unusual styles of walking or moving, get along well with children and with the
elderly, and so on.
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