For many years, animals, and in particular dogs, have been used to support people with health conditions. These fantastic, well-trained dogs are often referred to as ‘service’ dogs, and they help people with practical issues allowing their owner to live life more easily. I have, however, been observing with interest the increased publicity around the benefits of using dogs in therapy, and in particular while working with children.
You may recognise the example of a ‘therapy’ pet in relation to pets being brought into hospitals and hospices to provide emotional relief for the patients. But did you know that ‘therapy’ dogs are being trained to help humans with a wide range of needs. To highlight just one particular example, therapy dogs are introduced into schools to help children improve their reading. According to organisers, some children find it less intimidating to read to a dog, while apparently other children enjoy teaching the dog to read. Therapy dogs are further trained in the fields of speech therapy, depression therapy, relief and support for people with autism, grief counselling and many more areas.
If you are interested in learning more, have a look at Pets As Therapy’s extensive website and check out what’s on offer http://www.petsastherapy.org/ ‘PAT is a national charity founded in 1983. It is a community based charity providing therapeutic visits to hospitals, hospices, nursing and care homes, special needs schools and a variety of other establishments from volunteers with their pet dogs and cats’.
Several studies have documented the benefits of using dogs in a therapeutic environment. The doggy exposure helps the client to alleviate stress and tension associated with their particular condition. So not only can dogs assist with the physical health but they can also improve the mental health of humans. A canine companion provides a calm environment, with people benefitting from the unconditional affection their furry friend will provide in times of distress. A dog is very good at sensing pain and they will reassure their handler when necessary. Also, the physical petting of a dog calms a person down as relaxing hormones are released into their system, reducing any emotional outbursts.
There is definitely truth to the statement that a dog is man’s best friend as our four legged friends do innately understand a human’s emotional needs. Bonds created between a dog and their owner can go very deep and provide crucial emotional support. Furthermore, besides these appealing values, a dog will also offer you the chance to exercise by walking great distances, either alone or in the company of friends and family – and you will cherish the moments of watching the wagging tail, and joyful bouncing from your furry friend having fun in the great outdoors.
Not everyone has time or money to have a dog living with them full time but this shouldn’t stop you from enjoying some playful moments with a dog. You could offer your spare time to friends and family who may have a dog. Alternatively, you can volunteer to socialise and walk dogs associated with charities like Hearing Dogs or the RSPCA. Just recently I came across this brilliant new service Borrow my Doggy where dog owners and borrowers are matched for local walks, cuddles, potential dog sitting and holiday care, have a look at www.borrowmydoggy.com. Watch out for my two pooches on the site, they are always ready for a cuddle.
By Tina Elven