Therapy pets are instrumental in changing the lives of many people on a daily basis. Just the touch of an animal has been shown to increase those “feel good” endorphins in the body as well as promote energy and decrease feelings of loneliness and isolation. Maybe you are looking to become a volunteer at a hospital, school or nursing home.
These organizations are amenable to animal visits. Here are some suggestions for you and your pet if therapy is what you are considering.
It bears noting that therapy pets and service animals are different. Service animals are trained to the specific needs of a person (deafness, blindness, other disorder). They are trained for that person and then become their personal companion. They maintain contact only with the service person to avoid confusion in their training.
Therapy animals are no less important as far as their duty to help others. While they don’t perform specific tasks as service animals do, they are available to their therapy patients as a tool to bring about a change. For example, petting a dog can provide physical and mental stimulation to nursing home residents. The presence of an animal can slow the heart rate and also reduce anxiety to children about to undergo dental procedures and other medical procedures. Animals, especially dogs, are empathetic, calm, patient and love to please people.
Training for Your Therapy Pet
We are going to specifically speak about dogs here. They are the most commonly used therapy pet. Several breeds are suitable to therapy because of their temperament, size and lifestyle. For instance, larger dogs may be more suitable to patients who need to move and for children. Dogs that require frequent daily walks outside are for more active assignments. Smaller dogs can visit with people who have limited mobility or are confined to a certain location like nursing facilities.
Here are some things to consider when training your dog to become a therapy pet.
Begin with obedience school. Your dog will need to adapt to a variety of situations by listening and following your commands so they and the patient are kept safe. You can send your dog to obedience school with a certified dog instructor who will ensure your dog will pass any test set by the organization you partner with.
Find an organization
You can go to visit your local nursing facility by yourself, but many places deal with established groups. And, partnering with an organization gives you and your pet more opportunities to help patients. Each organization will have their own requirements, so check to see what is needed.
Join a national group
As a dog owner, joining the AKC (the American Kennel Club) means a national affiliation that lends confidence to anyone who uses you and your pet. Again, there will be an exam or criteria to follow.
If you have a wonderful pet that you’d like to share with others, training for service in pet therapy is a great way to give back.