From Pets to Partners-Therapy Dogs Give Us Their All

family with therapy dog

From the mischievous dachshund to the mighty St. Bernard, dogs have always been there for us. Through childhood games and broken hearts, they've provided companionship, protection, and love. They have stepped up even more to help children during times of great emotional and physical trauma in ways that no one else can. These pets have become service and therapy dogs, as well as emotional support animals, and during times of disaster, they become working dogs.

The Americans with Disabilities Act defines service dogs as being “individually trained to do work or perform tasks for a person with a disability.” These disabilities may be physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or mental. Service dogs may serve children as:

  • Guide dogs that help the blind throughout their daily lives;
  • Hearing dogs that alert the deaf to sounds like door bells and sirens;
  • Psychiatric guide dogs that assist those dealing with mental health conditions, such as PTSD, depression, and anxiety; and
  • Medical alert dogs that help alert epileptics when a seizure is imminent or warn diabetics when their blood sugar is low.

Service dogs also help those with mobility problems by opening doors and retrieving things the individual can't reach. All of these things help children feel safe and confident as they move out into the world around them.

Service dogs aren't required to be trained by a professional organization. They may be trained by their owner/handler, as long as they know how to help their owner/handler and know basic obedience. However, because they are trained to assist their owner/handler with a specific disability, they do have access to any public or private place all people do, including hospitals, schools, and restaurants.

Emotional support animals help children with such issues as anxiety and depression simply by providing comfort and support. Defined as companion animals, they can be any kind of animal. However, they differ from support dogs in that they aren't trained to perform specific tasks related to a person's specific disability. This denies them unlimited public access. However, under the Fair Housing Act, they must be allowed accommodation in any rental housing.

Therapy dogs play many roles in helping their human friends.

Dogs visiting hospitals help in different ways. They can encourage children to engage in physical therapy. By allowing them to remove and attach their leashes, collars, and vests, they help improve motor skills, and walking down the halls helps them improve their mobility. Some might say their most important job, however, is to simply provide love and support. The dogs are trained to rest their heads on the patient's lap or to lie next to them. This helps reduce stress and lowers blood pressure. Just petting a dog helps take a child's mind off the symptoms and their treatments. For example, one of these dogs might go with a child undergoing bloodwork when they are afraid of needles. When the scary part starts, the dog may put his paw over his nose and turn his head, making the child laugh and get through the ordeal. These dogs help improve recovery and simply break up the monotony of long days spent in the hospital.

Therapy dogs in facility situations such as senior care centers not only help their elderly friends by retrieving things they can't reach and opening doors for them to get through, but they take away the loneliness many feel when they have no family to visit them. They also help seniors with dementia and Alzheimer's.

In educational situations, dogs help children participate in learning activities. Children find it easier to read out loud to a dog rather than someone they see as judgmental. They also encourage children in exercises that help with speech issues. Dogs are often brought into schools after school shootings and mass traumas helping them cope with feelings they can't express. Dogs are sometimes used in courtrooms. They can sit with children who are victims of physical or sexual abuse while they talk with attorneys, helping them tell their stories when they otherwise would be too traumatized to speak. They may also sit behind the witness stand, out of sight of the jury. Being able to pet a dog helps ease the child's fears as they testify against someone sitting just a few steps away.

Working dogs help children and their parents on a larger scale. They are purpose-trained dogs. They rely on specific skills to help their human friends, most often with their sense of smell. Working dogs are:

  • Search and rescue dogs, using either the scents in the air or scents from specific objects to locate things during disasters, cadaver searches, drowning situations, and avalanches.
  • Explosive Detection dogs work with the police and other organizations to find different types of explosives and alert their handlers to their locations.

These dogs go through extensive training courses to qualify for the jobs and they should not be approached while they are working.

From the beginning, humans and dogs have worked together to survive in a world full of pitfalls. For children, when things seem to be at their worst, a warm paw and a wet nose can still chase the monsters away, even if only for a few minutes, showing that dogs will always be our best friends.

Main Source: American Kennel Club