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Most people know that service dogs provide help to visually- or hearing-impaired individuals with daily tasks, but in addition to these familiar assistance animals, therapy dogs have become an important way to helping those in recovery, rehabilitation, and more.
Puppy love: How canine therapy can improve lives
Puppy love: How canine therapy can improve lives
The first face I see every morning is a fuzzy one. It belongs to my dog, Abe. Like many people, I can’t imagine my life without my pet. But for some, a dog is more than a pal; it’s a constant companion who provides invaluable assistance in their day-to-day life.

Most people know that service dogs provide help to visually- or hearing-impaired individuals with daily tasks, but in addition to these familiar assistance animals, therapy dogs have become an important way to helping those in recovery, rehabilitation, and more.

What is a therapy dog?


A therapy dog has a temperament that is conducive to providing comfort and support to those who need it. According to the Canadian Service Dog Foundation, there are three kinds of therapy dogs:
  • Therapeutic Visitation Animals: These are dogs that visit a location, like a hospital, to help to improve the morale and spirits of people going through recovery or treatment.
  • Animal-Assisted Therapy Animals: Like therapeutic visitation animals, these therapy dogs will also visit a location like a hospital rehabilitation clinic and are specifically trained to support physical rehabilitation and recovery.
  • Facility Therapy Animals: Unlike the other two kinds of therapy dogs, these particular animals live at a specific facility like a psychiatric unit or nursing home and assist staff on a daily basis to care for patients.

How do therapy dogs help people?


Therapy dogs (in conjunction with other kinds of therapy) have been known to improve both the physical and emotional health of patients. According to local therapy dog training organization, the Vancouver ecoVillage Society, therapy dogs have helped people to lower their blood pressure and cholesterol levels, and may also work with occupational and physical therapists to help patients achieve specific rehab goals. For example, brushing a dog helps re-builds strength, or attaching a secondary leash to an animal works to improve fine motor skills after injury.

Individuals suffering from anxiety or depression can also see improvement after interacting with a therapy dog, and so a therapy dog could be great for a newly-injured individual who is nervous or struggling to readjust to life after a spinal cord injury.

Can my dog be a therapy dog?

That depends. The dog must naturally have the right kind of temperament - it should love people, be outgoing and friendly, and have a natural desire to help others. It should be able to sit calmly for petting, walk on a loose leash, walk through a crowd (including wheelchairs), and sit and stay on command. Therapy dogs should also not be aggressive to other animals.
Certain types of breeds tend to be more suited to the therapy dog role. Golden retrievers and Labrador retrievers are traditionally preferred as service animals, and tend to work well as therapy dogs, too. Smaller breeds like a Cavalier King Charles spaniels or Papillons may also be good therapy dogs, especially if the people they work with are frail.

If you’re interested in training your pet to be a therapy dog, Vancouver ecoVillage can get you started. Therapy dogs go through four months of training and testing before they interact with people in various facilities, and therapy dog handlers also need to be able to cue and direct their animals and meet other requirements. Vancouver ecoVillage’s website has more information, or you can contact the organization about its next event.


Rebecca Saloustros

About the Author

Rebecca Saloustros is a writer and editor in Vancouver, B.C.

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