Things to Know About Therapy Dogs

Posted by on Nov 19, 2018 in ComLead

Therapy dogs are more than just friendly dogs that get along with everyone. A therapy dog is a canine trained specifically to provide psychological or physiological therapy to individuals other than their personal handlers. These dogs typically visit establishments such as hospitals or rehabilitation centers, or they live at specific institutions to provide comfort to the residents there.

Research has found that an interaction with a therapy dog produces several health benefits for an individual, including increasing oxytocin and dopamine (related to bonding and happiness) and reducing cortisol (related to stress).

There are three types of therapy dogs:

  1. Therapeutic Visitation Dog – These dogs are brought to facilities such as hospitals, rehabilitation centers, nursing homes, etc. to provide comfort and interact with residents there. These visits help to break monotony, improve mental health and increase social interactions.
  2. Animal-Assisted Therapy Dog (AAT) – These dogs help patients on their path to recovery in physical and occupational therapy. They are also used to help individuals to cope with certain medical conditions.
  3. Facility Therapy Dog – These dogs reside in different establishments, primarily nursing homes, and are trained to boost morale and help patients with Alzheimer’s disease or other mental illnesses.

In addition to health facilities, therapy dogs are also used in classrooms, college campuses, and even in prisons. Because therapy dogs help with personal development, self-confidence, mental health, social skills, nurturing skills, and empathic behaviors, they are able to positively impact these settings. Therapy dogs on college campuses help to reduce stress and anxiety in college students which helps improve their mental health and their coping skills with hectic schedules. Some prisons have also begun to implement programs such as the Prisoners and Animals Working Toward Success program (PAWS), to help inmates practice good behavior. In these programs, prisoners train or work with therapy dogs which has been known to reduce violence, antisocial behavior, suicide, and negative relationships between prisoners and guards.

While they may seem similar, there is major difference between therapy dogs and service dogs:

  1. Therapy dogs are trained to work with individuals outside of their handlers. Service dogs are trained specifically for their handlers in order to help individuals with different disabilities and health conditions to live safely and independently.
  2. Therapy dogs are meant to be pet, it is part of their job! Service dogs are not meant to be pet, especially if they wear a vest that specifies this. Petting a service dog may be a distraction and can prevent that dog from performing their job for their handler.
    Reminder: An emotional support dog is similar to a therapy dog as they provide comfort and affection. These dogs are specific to one owner though and do not require training. Therapy dogs and service dogs both require proper training and certification. Therefore, it is never a good idea to get a fake service/therapy dog best for your pet for the sake of access to public locations. The dogs that are allowed legal access to these locations have an actual job of being there and are trained and certified to behave accordingly.

And for your added enjoyment, here are some photos of Dr. Irwin’s therapy dog, Juno, who frequently visits Canisius to help bring smiles to the faces of stressed students!

Juno and your ComLead GA (Me)!


Resources: Difference Between a Therapy Dog vs. Service Dog

Animal Assisted Therapy

Prison Pup Programs Give Inmates and Shelter Dogs a Second Chance

Service Dog vs. Therapy Dog vs. Emotional Support Dog

Devon Bradley, M.S. Communication & Leadership ’19

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