Love on a Leash

Therapy dogs can help lower blood pressure and reduce anxiety for people in settings like schools and hospitals. 

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- Posted on Oct 26, 2020

Therapy Dog International cerifciation. Photo by Roy Gumpel

Therapy dogs are trained to provide psychological support in settings like hospitals and schools. A therapy dog is not the same as a service dog or an emotional support animal. A service dog is specifically trained to assist an individual with a disability. An emotional support animal is not trained to perform specific tasks but is prescribed by a health professional to provide comfort for its owner.

There’s no national registry of therapy dogs, but in 2020, there were 18,000 registered with the Alliance of Therapy Dogs alone.

All therapy dogs must be registered and certified by a reputable national organization, such as Love on a Leash, Pet Partners and Therapy Dogs International. Go to their websites for specific requirements. A potential therapy dog should be at least a year old, socialized, capable of adapting to different environments and obedient. Interested? Have your dog take the AKC Canine Good Citizen training program and test. It will help you evaluate your pet’s aptitude for therapy.

Studies show that therapy dogs enjoy their work as much as people enjoy their companionship.

Pet Partners registers nine species as therapy animals: dogs, cats, equines, birds, rats, miniature pigs, llamas and alpacas, guinea pigs and rabbits. The majority of their animal-assisted therapy teams are dogs.

Therapy dogs go back to World War II. Dog owners brought their pets to hospitals to comfort wounded soldiers. By 1947, about 700 dogs had been donated to U.S. hospitals.

Smoky, a Yorkshire Terrier, was one of the first therapy dogs. Rescued by American soldiers stationed in New Guinea in 1944, the four-pound Yorkie was adopted by Cpl. Bill Wynne. She stayed by his side when he was hospitalized with dengue fever. Nurses took her to visit other patients. Wynne noticed Smoky’s presence lightened the soldiers’ mood: “She was just an instrument of love.”

Research confirms that therapy dogs can help lower blood pressure and heart rate, reduce anxiety and loneliness, and boost a person’s confidence and endorphin levels.

Read more: The Golden Retriever that Helped Her Handle Anxiety

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