The Role of Therapy Dogs
With recent events across the globe, many of us can say just how important our four-legged friends truly are. Being our support systems in times of crisis and the reason why many of us have smiled during the past 12 months, our dogs really are the saving grace in our lives.
As more and more research uncovers the benefits of dogs to our mental health, there has been an increase in canine companions being trained as therapy dogs to support both children and adults who may suffer from mental health issues. So with this week raising awareness of Children’s Mental Health Week, here’s everything you need to know about Therapy Dogs and all the hard work they are doing to keep children smiling each and every day.
What is a Therapy Dog?
Therapy Dogs are somewhat similar to Service Dogs (like Guide Dogs or Police Dogs) that are used to bring comfort and support to either their owners or a select group of people. These four-legged friends are used to support an individual’s mental health by providing attention and comfort in times of need.
For children, often therapy dogs are used to ease anxiety, stress or worries the child might have in school or at home. Often Therapy Dogs will be used during reading times as dogs are known to relax children and encourage reading. It is a mixture of their soft nature and sweet demeanour that makes them an ideal companion in times of need.
Any breed of dog can be trained as a Therapy Dog but often breeds such as Retrievers and Labradors are used because of their gentle approach to socialisation. Before being confirmed as a Therapy Dog, dogs are tested and observed to see their behaviour and response to stimuli such as noises and being touched. Once dogs have passed these stages, they are then approved by a vet and behaviourist as a Therapy Dog and put to work making people smile.
Benefits of a Therapy Dog
Just like adults, dogs can relieve symptoms of stress and anxiety in children almost immediately. Research suggests just cuddling or stroking a dog for 10 minutes can boost the endorphins in our brains (chemicals responsible for happiness) significantly.
For children who struggle to express their emotions, or perhaps struggle to sit still and remain calm, Therapy Dogs can help these groups of children handle and cope with their feelings. Spending time with a dog will teach the child to be quiet, calm and settled thus assisting them in regulating their emotions when the dog is not present. This emotional learning journey is significantly impactful for children with Autism and ADHD who struggle to respond in social situations or find calming their feelings problematic.
They can help teach responsibility and dealing with animals later in life. Unfortunately, not all children are lucky enough to grow up with a furry friend by their side. Using a Therapy Dog in places such as schools or even Children’s Hospitals can help educate young people on the responsibilities and jobs of caring for a pet. Understanding and learning about how to approach and care for a dog safely can help avoid dangerous situations that children may face later in life.
Finally, Therapy Dogs can have a significant impact on the health and wellbeing of children who are unable to see family due to hospitalisation. With more and more hospitals introducing Therapy Dogs into their Children’s Wards, these special dogs are used to cement bonds for children who are missing parents and carers whilst they are in hospital. These dogs may often be used in Physiotherapy or even as company to X-rays or Theatre to give the child an extra paw of love if they are feeling anxious or worried about treatment.