Therapy Dogs

By: Gracie Zeeb

What is a Therapy Dog?

A Therapy Dog is a dog trained to provide affection and comfort to people in hospitals, retirement homes, nursing homes, schools, hospitals, disaster areas, and to people with (learning) difficulties. A Therapy Dog is one with a temperament that is friendly, patient, and outstanding overall. A Therapy Dog has the desire to visit with people, children, and interacts with other animals well. Therapy Dogs also interact with other dogs they encounter in positive ways.

Importance of Therapy Dogs

If you possess a therapy dog, you could show a mental decrease in stress, anxiety, depression (including PTSD), and aggressive behaviors. Physically, you could show a decrease in your blood pressure and heart rate, and a decrease in the stress hormone cortisol. Therapy dogs are proven by many owners and doctors to improve people's social skills, motor skills, and so much more. It's extremely important for all of these things to happen in order to maintain the best life you can possibly live; a happy, healthy life. Therapy dogs have improved many people’s lives who have had one or more of these various disabilities.

Daisy: The dog who sniffed out over 500 cases of cancer

Dr. Guest had recalled that Daisy had been pawing at her chest-- bumping into her repeatedly. Dr. Guest decided to see her General Practitioner after noticing a small bump on her chest. Her GP had stated the bump was just a harmless, removable cyst. “He was correct-- the bump was a perfectly harmless cyst, but further in the breast tissue was a deep-seated cancer.” It was caught very early and she ended up going through 6 months of radiotherapy. Now, five years and several trials later, Daisy has sniffed 6,000 samples of urine and detected more than 551 cases of cancer with a diagnostic accuracy of 93%.

Cali, an 18-month-old Rhodesian Ridgeback:

When we’re agitated, cortisol levels in our bloodstream rise. It’s Cali’s job to let Casey Butler, her handler, know if a student’s cortisol levels are high. If they are, that student spends time talking with Ms. Butler and Cali to help defuse the stress. “The children feel safer with Cali around,” she explained. “They tend to open up more.” It’s their strange sense of smell that allows dogs like Cali to detect rising cortisol levels in our sweat or breath, and identify a student having trouble even in a faraway classroom.

Bella and Max

As Bella faced the challenge of learning to walk again with a prosthetic leg, after going into cardiac arrest, her progress improved as her spirits were lifted when she began receiving physical therapy using a pet therapy dog. “The days I meet with my pet therapy dog, Max, are fun because we play as he helps me to walk," said Bella herself. Max has been helping Bella, and according to nurses Bella's recovery time has continued to improve.

Pros and Cons of Owning a Therapy Dog

Pros:

  • Helps children overcome speech and emotional disorders.

  • Decreases feelings of isolation and alienation.

  • The act of petting produces an automatic relaxation response, reducing amount of medication some people need.

  • Releases endorphins that have a calming effect.

  • Provides non-stressful, non-judgmental environment.

  • Increases self-confidence, reduces self-consciousness.

  • Provides motivation to move more, stretch farther, and exercise longer.

  • Increases joint movement and improves recovery time.

Cons:

  • Having to “drag” your therapy dog around with you wherever you go (if needed). For example, restaurants, movie theaters, dentist/any medical appointments, having another dog approach the two of you (maybe in a menacing manner), airplane rides, etc.

Therapy Dogs at Phoenix Children's Hospital - Petcentric Snouts in Your Town