If you’ve ever felt happier and full of energy after cuddling with a sweet animal, you already know some benefits therapy dogs bring. Anyone who has spent time around a gentle and caring pet knows the real mental and emotional boost it can grant.
In fact, that love and affection are exactly what therapy dogs are trained to do every day. Comfortable around all sorts of people and environments, these pets are volunteer therapists.
Not to be confused with an emotional support dog or service dog, these pets primarily visit mental health programs to help patients heal.
But therapy dogs are even more amazing than you may realize. Here are 7 incredible facts you didn’t know about therapy pets!
1. They Can Help Children Read
Yes, you read that right! There are programs all over the country that partner up children with learning disabilities and patient therapy pets. Kids can practice their reading aloud skills in front of a therapy dog in a judgment-free zone. Holding on to a calm pet can help a child easily and slowly overcome a stutter or intense stress due to public speaking.
Before you know it, the dogs will be barking out their A, B, Cs as well as their owners!
2. They Can Ease Autism Symptoms
Studies have shown that children with autism are more likely to socialize when exposed to therapy dogs. Focusing on a therapy dog can help the child ignore distractions and have an easier time speaking. Children with autism can struggle with eye contact and connection, but a therapy dog can form a close bond with a child to combat the loneliness that those symptoms cause.
Those with autism often learn through all of their senses. A therapy dog can enhance learning through play and touch: tug-of-war, cuddles, and fetch are all great ways to support a well-rounded physical and psychological education. Autistic kids can have a hard time expressing themselves but, through hugs and play with a pet, they can access those emotions for humans too.
3. Most Animals Can Be Therapy Animals
Pet therapy is a catch-all term that covers any animal that will increase your mental well-being and lower stress. Those fish in your doctor’s waiting room are there to help patients reduce anxiety and take their minds off the visit. Even behind glass, those little ones are making a difference.
Even some small pigs, monkeys, horses, and rats have been successfully trained as therapy animals. As long as the pet stays calm in stressful situations and is happy meeting new people, then it will be a great match.
4. Therapy Animals Have Been Around Longer Than You Think
The Ancient Greeks had been known to use horses to help calm patients in surgery. Sigmund Freud brought his dog, Jo-Fi to every therapy session once he noticed the dog’s presence helped patients open up and retain his advice. Even Quakers in the 18th Century brought in well-behaved early therapy dogs to treat those with mental illness.
But the use of therapy dogs really took off during World War II when they were used by the Red Cross to treat veterans suffering from PTSD. So don’t discount therapy dogs as any sort of hippy, new-age idea: using pets to help the sick has been trusted for hundreds of years.
5. A Dog Can Protect Your Heart
According to Harvard Medical School, a dog can actually lower blood pressure and reduce cholesterol. Studies showed that pet owners (especially dog owners) have lower triglyceride and cholesterol levels than those without pets — and these differences were not due to diet, exercise, or smoking habits.
The leading theory is that since dogs lower stress, heart rate and blood pressure also stay low to match this reduced anxiety. While pet owners reap the benefits every day from a lower risk of cardiovascular disease, therapy dogs bring those benefits directly to those who need it most.
6. They Can Help Hospital Patients
No matter where a therapy dog goes, it can make a difference. Visiting those with Alzheimer’s has been shown to improve memory retention. A therapy dog’s visit to PTSD survivors can help them stay calm and get a good night’s sleep.
Therapy dogs also often visit people suffering from cancer as their presence has been shown to lower the stress hormone cortisol and raise pain-relieving endorphins. Pet therapy can produce real chemical changes in the brain that make discomfort fall away. Plus, therapy dogs are such a fun distraction, there is not even time to think about pain when playing.
7. Your Pet Could Qualify As A Therapy Animal
Look at your dog objectively. Of course, you know they are lovely and kind, but ask yourself a few questions: Does my dog enjoy new places and people? Does my dog stay calm even when excited? Is my dog easily spooked?
Most people that need the support of an animal cannot handle loud barking or jumping. Owners are present for most therapy dog visits, so you will be able to keep an eye on everything. But make sure you are ready for a serious commitment if you want to start bringing your pet to help in what could be stressful environments with people in pain.
If you are seriously considering getting your best friend to start helping those in need as a therapy dog, do thorough research and get started today. Not only will your dog be allowed to visit hospital patients or help kids in your local library, but they will have more rights and access to public and restricted places. Registered therapy dogs can be granted entrance to schools, retirement homes, doctor’s offices, and more.
So let you and your dog take care of those you love, no matter where they are! For more information on therapy dogs and ESAs, contact the professionals at ESA Registration of America today.