Therapy dogs are not considered official service dogs, but they perform a very useful service in the informal sense. Therapy dogs help encourage and comfort people who are experiencing a difficult time. They have been used to help children with behavioral disorders and bring smiles to the faces of elderly people in nursing homes.
It's been said that the first therapy dog was Smoky the Yorkshire Terrier, who was rescued by a corporal named William Wynne during World War II. Smoky provided comfort to Wynne when he was in the hospital recovering from a disease, and the dog was a big hit with the other patients in the hospital, too.
The idea came to the US, and in the 1970s a training program was implemented to train dogs to visit institutions like hospitals. Health care professionals continue to note the positive effects that therapy dogs have on patients.
Therapy dogs have been known to bring about many benefits to patients - mentally, physically, and emotionally. Some of the known benefits of therapy dogs include:
* Lower blood pressure
* Raised spirits and elevated mood
* Memory triggers (this is especially notable in Alzheimer's patients and patients with dementia)
* Decreased stress
* Improved speech (particularly noted in children with speech difficulties)
* Improved emotional outlook (especially in children with emotional disorders)
What is it about dogs that seems to reach people with disabilities, injuries, and illness? For one thing, dogs offer unconditional love. For some handicapped people, being stared at and/or shunned is commonplace, unfortunately. Dogs, however, don't even notice the disability. They offer their "smiles," presence, and happy personalities to anyone.
Dogs are also part of many people's past. Elderly patients with mental and memory disabilities might find themselves remembering a beloved pet, and telling stories about it, all because the presence of a loving dog reminded them.
Breeds and Characteristics
There really is no breed requirement for therapy dogs. They tend to be Labradors, because this breed is reliably docile, friendly, and good with strangers. But any breed can be a therapy dog, including mixed breeds, if they meet some important requirements and exhibit certain characteristics. This includes:
* Calm demeanor in crowds
* Friendly attitude (not shy or nervous)
* Basic obedience training (Therapy dogs should not be allowed to jump up on people or take food from people's hands, for instance, and they should be well-trained enough to know when to sit, stay, come, and so forth.)
Any breed of dog, large or small, can exhibit these traits.