Thearpy Dogs – What are they and what health benefits can they offer?

Perhaps you’ve witnessed this scene – you’re walking down the hall of a hospital or nursing home to visit a loved one, and you pass someone walking a dog into a patient’s room.

Wait – whaaat?

Are dogs now allowed in healthcare facilities?   You thought only service dogs were permitted inside – and that didn’t look like a service dog.

What you have likely witnessed is a Therapy dog in action!

What is a Therapy dog?

Therapy dogs receive training to provide psychological or physiological therapy to people other than their owners or handlers.  Typical places they visit are hospitals, nursing homes, and schools.  Visits often involve meeting numerous patients, or they can spend individual time bonding with one patient.

Most often when visiting these facilities, they are handled by their owner.  However, they may be handled by a professional dog handler/trainer.

Therapy dogs are of an even temperament and have friendly personalities.

The type of people who have benefited from visits with a therapy dog include those suffering from autism, Alzheimer’s, depression, and PTSD.

Therapy dogs can improve a patient’s mental health by providing feelings of comfort, reducing feelings of loneliness, enhancing self-esteem and motivation to get better.

There are even physical benefits therapy dogs can provide, such as lowering blood pressure, releasing endorphins and relaxation hormones.

Is a Service Dog the same as a Therapy Dog?

No – Service Dogs are trained helpers for someone with a disability.  They allow their human to gain independence and help keep their owner safe.  Service Dogs’ owners often have a “no petting” policy for their dogs, as this could interfere with the dog’s duties.

Service Dogs are also permitted under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and other laws to accompany their owners in public places such as restaurants and grocery stores.  Therapy Dogs are most often not afforded these same allowances, as their jobs are not the same as Service Dogs.

Can I train my dog to become a Service Dog?

Dogs of any breed, mix, or size can become a Service Dog – the most important trait of a Service Dog is its temperament.  Service Dogs have to be friendly and able to tolerate petting and handling from unfamiliar people.

For you and your dog to become a Therapy Team through the Alliance of Therapy Dogs, the process is as follows:

  • Your dog must be friendly and at least one year old.
  • A tester/observer in your area will test you and your dog – this evaluates your dog’s demeanor, good manners, and your handling skills.
  • You and your dog will be observed by a tester/handler during three visits with medical facility residents.
  • After these steps are completed, along with completion of the application paperwork, you and your fur baby are a Therapy Team!

So – what do you think?  Are you looking for a way to volunteer to help others but still have bonding time with your pooch?  Training your pup to become a Therapy Dog may be the perfect way for you to contribute to others’ well-being.

For more information on becoming a Therapy Dog member, visit the Alliance of Therapy Dogs.

After researching this subject, I’m considering looking into training my dog Lola to become a Therapy Dog!  Are you part of a Therapy Team, or know someone who is?  Do you know someone who has benefited from a Therapy Dog’s services?  What experiences can you share on this subject?

I’d love to hear your thoughts and comments!


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