The best description which describes therapy dogs is from the Alliance of Therapy Dogs’ Mission Statement. “Our objective is to form a network of caring individuals and their special dogs who share smiles and joy with people, young and old alike.”
Therapy dogs are not service dogs. A therapy dog visits people in need of comfort or stimulation with a handler in a volunteer capacity and a service dog is one that helps its owner, who has a disability. Therapy dogs can be petted by others but service dogs, when in public, are working and should not be petted.
For those people who are not familiar with what therapy dogs can do, here are a few examples:
Airport visits – therapy teams (dog and handler) are used to help de-stress passengers. The team usually works for two hours at a time and must complete all the TSA requirements.
PAWS for Reading – PAWS (Pets are Worth Sharing) for Sharing is a program which encourages children to read in a supportive environment. The program allows children to begin feeling more comfortable while reading to the dog rather than people, empowering the child to read. Teams are often used to kick off the summer reading program for libraries and schools. In South Carolina the program is known as the “Tail Waggin Tutor” program.
Visits to Nursing Homes and Assisted Living Facilities – The therapy team visits the staff, patients and guests bringing smiles and joy to everyone. Sometimes when the patients are in a group setting such as sitting in a community room, an experienced therapy dog will seek out the person needing them the most. Some dogs can work miracles resulting in a patient saying a few words after being quiet for months or another patient may move their fingers to pet the dog when their fingers have not moved for a long time.
Locations of a Tragic Event – An example of a tragic event is the Pulse Nightclub shooting in Orlando. During the Pulse aftermath, therapy teams were meeting with the survivors within a few days and met with the injured in various hospitals. Teams continued their relationships through attendance at various Pulse family events over the past two years.
On a personal note, my Golden Retriever, Murphy, is now a therapy dog. She made her official debut at Advent Health, accompanied by a more experienced team of Ambrose and Bentley, on Thursday, Aug. 15.. On this big day for Murphy and me, there was a big difference between Bentley and Murphy.
Bentley, a seven-year-old Standard Poodle, was experienced and willing to make visits for two hours or more. Murphy who is 2-and-a-half and new to therapy work became tired after only one hour. Even dogs, just like people, can get socially exhausted and need to take a break. Most dogs will show various signs of stress and once recognized by the owner; the therapy work should come to an end for the day.
After one hour, Murphy started jumping on me which is her first sign of stress. The more visits we make, which will be on Thursdays, Murphy will no doubt be able to extend the time of being her normal happy, wiggly and smiling self.
Before a dog can become a therapy dog, they should receive obedience training. The Heartland Dog Club offers Basic, Intermediate and Advanced Obedience, Rally and Canine Good Citizen trainings. Trainings take place at the Lake Shore Mall on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday evenings. Please call 863–304–8582 for additional information.