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Can therapy dogs influence people?

Anik Riedel, Writer

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A short movie showed me, that it is really great to have volunteer or therapists with dogs coming, for example to hospitals, to visit patients. Patients enjoy petting the dog, it makes them smile, they love it what helps their healing process. Seeing pets makes patients so happy. It is great for them to spend time with a gentle and calm dogs. A visit from a dog is not only good for the patients it also makes the nurses and other colleagues happy. Dogs put a smile on everyone’s face, on the days they come into the hospital. To be with a dog really helps against the stress and for a moment patients can forget why they are in the hospital.

Dog therapy is a meeting between a human and a trained dog, it also includes the owner of the animal. The goal of this therapy is to help humans recover from a health problem or a mental disorder. Through this, people get in a better mood and feeling, they have the dog and they no longer feel alone. Therapy dogs are often used in hospitals, retirement facilities, schools, universities, colleges, community centers and libraries. It’s a contact with children, people with a disability, elderly people and groups of people.
Which people should consider dog therapy? People dealing with mental health disorders, children with physical problems, People during a chemotherapy, People diagnosed with chronic heart failure, People with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia and at least People with autism.
But what are the benefits from a visit from a therapy dog and the owner? People who feel lonely really enjoy talking to the dog owner, the pet and cuddle the dog. People then feel love that is given back from the dog.

This can cause therapeutic benefits, when those people stay in contact with a dog, because connecting with the dog can help lower blood pressure and your heart rate. It also can release the hormone oxytocin, which influences the social interaction. Not only humans benefit from the therapy, dogs enjoy it when they get cuddled in the right place for example on the chest, shoulder base, on the tail, on the base of his neck or at least between its ears.
The physical effect that dogs provide to the humans are varying; people will get a slower breathing, so the muscles will relax. The speed of blood flow through the body is decreasing, blood pressure and heart rate sink, the stress becomes less, cortisone spill out, the sense of pain will be reduced, because of the release of endorphin, which is a happy hormone. Through cuddling the dog it can improve your flexibility – it can facilitate motor activity and coordination. At least People can relax, enjoy the therapy with the dog and have more motivation to do the exercises, they should do. Additionally it influences the mental health. Through the connection with a dog people feel more comfortable, it reduces the loneliness from people and it also improves the emotional well-being and the self-esteem, of people.

However, not every dog can be used for a therapy dog. For a successful therapy it is important that the dog is well-socialized, enjoys human touches, is well-tempered, comfortable in busy or stressful settings, should love to cheer people up and the dog should be calm, gentle and at least should enjoy humans contact. Sometimes it is helpful to have a small dog, because it is easier to lift the dog into the bed from the patient, or to hold the dog in the arm. Small dogs for example are French bulldogs, Pugs, Beagles or Chihuahuas. But also large dogs for example Golden Retriever, Labrador, Saint Bernard or Poodle are good for the therapy.

But what are the specifications to volunteer with a dog? First of all you have to be at least 18 years old. You have to have a really good physical and mental ability for the tasks you have to do. You have to get a criminal record check from the police and do an application process and also show the veterinarian documents to show that you get all necessary vaccination’s you need. You should at least take part in an evaluation successfully. That’s one of the main reason for you to volunteer.

If you want your dog to be a therapy dog you should know what the rules are and what the best way to train them is. You can start to train your puppy from the beginning, when you take your puppy home for the first time. That’s with an age of 7-8 weeks. With an age of 12-16 weeks your puppy has enough control to learn the first movements. You should start to teach your dog the easy commands, “sit”, “lay down” and “stay”. To motivate your puppy you can use one of his favorite toys. As a reward you can give him small pieces of food, for example you can hold a small piece of food in your hand and put it on the floor. That means for your dog to lie down. But show to your puppy first that you have some food in your hand, so the puppy will be more concentrated.

After your dog did a good job pet your dog as a reward. You can also start to say “good dog” or something similar. From time to time your puppy will learn to listen to your commands. That’s really important because you will not always have food with you for a reward. It is important that your puppy learns the meaning of each command. Your daily training should be around 15 minutes. Start with socializing at the age of 7-16 weeks. It is important that your puppy is getting positive and fun impressions. Your puppy needs to train up to 4-6 months sometimes up to one year. To volunteer for a therapy dog, your dog must be at least two years old. And have to know the exercises. It is important that your dog does the regular vaccinations for rabies, parvovirus, distemper and adenovirus and regular checkup. It is not allowed that your dog is getting a raw-meat diet. Anyways it is a must-have that your dog is a dutiful one. The dog has to be always under control from the owner. Your dog should not be influenced from the environmental conditions. So, in general the main points for a successful dog are: social behavior, concentration, distractibility, sensitive of noise and aggression.

To sum up, the main aspects for being a good therapy dog are, that your dog has to know commands and should be well trained. Your dog has to sit well behaved for petting, your dog have to walk without leashes and to follow the instruction from the owner, your dog has to be well behaved when walking through a large group of people, the dog has to come when called, on command your dog has to sit or lay down. To start with the therapies you do a test where you leave your dog with another person in a room for 3 minutes. The dog is on a leash for this exercise but does not have to stay, or sit on the same position.

At least there are a lot of different types of therapy dogs. One for example is a Facility therapy dog, which is working in nursing homes and also lives there. The dog helps people to stay away from trouble. Those people have for example mental illnesses or Alzheimer’s disease.

Another type is the Animal Assisted Therapy dog. This dog works usually in physical rehabilitation facilities. It help’s patients to improve their fine motor skills when they pet the dog.

There is also a Therapeutic visitation Dog. That dog are household pets. That means the owners take them to a visit for example to a school.

Next there is a Disaster Relief dog. This dogs visit people who have a violent experience or a suffered trauma. The dogs and handler of the dog, help to bring people more comfort.

Lastly there is a Reading Therapy dog. The goal of this type of therapy is that children who have problems to read in Front of the class don’t feel lonely. A dog will sit beside the child when they are in front of the class. The handler take their dogs into school, or public libraries.

In conclusion, therapy dogs can influence people to overcome the challenges they face, the stress overpowering them and get them in a better mood. It is great to have owners bring in their dogs to help make others feel better through their situations.

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Anik Riedel, Writer

My name is Anik Riedel and I'm 18 years old. I'm from Germany, near Stuttgart. My hometown has 11.000 inhabitants. I have a twin sister and a older sister....

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Can therapy dogs influence people?