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Biology, The Study of Life On Earth
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HOME .::. BIOLOGY .::. HUMAN BIOLOGY


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Therapy Dogs

                      A special article by guest author Dr. Ronald Hinde

 

Spectator Health: How my love of baseball helped me turn my dog into a healer

One of my favorite parts of a baseball game on TV is when the cameras show the family members of the players. It reminds me that the success of these athletes wouldn’t be possible without the support of their loved ones. The unique ways in which each of them support the player reflects their underlying loyalty and confidence in these players. Maybe it was for this reason that I found myself in the world of therapy dogs.

Therapy dogs brighten the lives of those they serve.

When my brother, Ryan, was diagnosed with clinical depression two years ago, one of the first things my family did was buy a dog. We learned about a study that showed how dogs positively affect the mood and behavior of their owners, so we thought it’d be worth a try. A week after we bought Molly- a black Kairn terrier with a patch of white over her right ear- we met Neil, who was a volunteer with the local vet.

Neil mentioned that Molly looked just like the therapy dog that the vet often works with. I’d never heard of therapy dogs, so I asked him to tell me more about it. Therapy dogs, Neil explained, are dogs that are trained by experts to provide healing for patients, particularly for people with psychiatric and psychological disorders. They provide affection, and comfort in unique ways. Retirement homes, hospitals, and schools are popular places that use therapy dogs. Unlike service dogs which can only be a certain breed and size-usually a Labrador retriever, golden retriever, or German shepherd— therapy dogs range from the Chihuahua to the Great Dane. Even the military has applied dog therapy for helping veterans cope with post-traumatic stress disorder.

The US Army trains therapy dogs for veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder.

 





 

 

After sharing my brother’s story with Neil, he encouraged me to look into getting Molly trained as a therapy dog. He explained that there are programs to certify Molly as a therapy dog, which will allow her, in some cases, to enter public buildings where other dogs would normally be prohibited. Neil offered some websites to start my research, and that if I needed more info I could visit him at the vet’s office where he volunteered every Wednesday. Learning about the training programs and all the benefits people received from the support of dogs completely changed my perspective on the value of loyalty and support offered by dogs.

Getting Molly trained to become a therapy dog was a no-brainer. The idea of having such a loyal friend as Molly be by Ryan’s side, knowing how to interact with him to help with his condition, seemed to be a perfect fit. I encourage you, the reader, to explore the possibility of training your dog to become a therapy dog, if possible, because there may be others who need the care but aren’t lucky enough to have a dog of their own. Just like the family members of a baseball player provide support just by being at the game, a dog can help patients heal successfully just by giving them needed comfort and attention.

Working with therapy dogs is very rewarding, both for the owner and the dog.

If you’re interested in training your dog to become a therapy dog and/or volunteering, here are several ways to get started:

1. Find a reputable organization. Organizations like Pet Partners and Good Dog Foundation offer classes in various regions. Ask lots of questions and be sure you’re comfortable with all aspects of training before making decisions. Therapy Dogs International may be able to recommend training facilities, depending on your area.

2. Contact your local vet. More likely than not, the local vet has probably worked on a few service dogs or therapy dogs. See if your vet personally knows an owner of a therapy dog, and go from there.

3. Volunteer with an established organization. Therapy Dogs International has programs in which volunteers can go to hospitals, retirement homes, schools, and other venues that may need therapy dogs. There are even programs where children can read stories to dogs.

Many pet owners gain an interest in this type of training, only to waver and eventually drop the idea after weeks of contemplation. So above all else, start taking action today!

About the Author:

Dr. Ronald Hinde is a researcher for the California Biodiversity Council, where he studies what he loves best- nature. He has also previously worked at University of British Colombia, fostering and developing his love for animals through his work in Adaptive Response Physiology. A resident of Downey, California, Ronald makes the most of the beautiful sunny weather by hiking and kayaking on the weekends. You can visit his online store, PetsLess (petsless.com), which offers a wide variety of dog pens and other containment accessories.


Therapy dogs help people in many different situations.
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