By Mary Ann Apostol

No, you do not have to lie on a couch and tell the dog what’s bothering you. That’s not what a Therapy Dog does. With traditional therapy the human patient talks about their feelings, experiences and problems.  Therapy dogs are taught to provide warmth and reassurance to those in hospitals, retirement homes, assisted living facilities, nursing homes, mental institutions, schools and disaster areas.

In many situations, the presence of a Therapy Dog is beneficial to both children and adults. There seems to be a therapeutic influence between dogs and humans which can sometimes help lower a person’s blood pressure, increase self esteem, increase survival rate for heart attack patients and provide a sense of emotional stability.  People may benefit simply from being in contact with the Therapy Dog.

The most important factor that a Therapy Dog should have is a great temperament… These dogs must be friendly and well behaved because they will be petted by many unfamiliar people. They have to be patient, friendly, confident, gentle and at ease in all situations. Sometimes these dogs will need to climb onto an invalid’s lap or on a bed, and sit, or lie there contentedly.  On occasion, they will perform small tricks for their audience, or play carefully planned games.

The Therapy Dog is not a service dog.  The service animals are trained to do work or to perform tasks for the benefit of a personal with a disability. On the other hand, therapy animals provide animal contact to people who may or may not have disabilities.  It is usually the personal pet of its handler and usually works with its handler during the sessions.   Therapy dogs do not have the legal rights to travel everywhere.  The institutions must invite them.  Lots of establishments have very strict prerequisites for the Therapy Dog.  Many organizations offer testing and accreditation for these dogs, such as the Canine Good Citizenship Test which is an obedience test administered by the American Kennel Club.

“All over the world, major universities researching the therapeutic value of pets in our society and the number of hospitals, nursing homes, prisons and mental institutions are employing full-time pet therapists” – Betty White, Actress and Animal Activist.

Some educators believe that a therapy dog can help some students in ways that teachers and textbooks cannot.  Some students have a hard time socially, but a therapy dog can actually help these youngsters with motivation and confidence.  Anxiety can be reduced and social skills can sometimes be improved for autistic students.

There are also programs in many schools to help children feel at ease to read with confidence. These dogs provide a nonjudgmental audience for children who practice their reading while the dogs are visiting. These dogs also offer healing therapy to abused, neglected and at-risk children, nurturing their ability to love and trust. It is very beneficial to children to bring animals into a learning situation.

These wonderful dogs share their unconditional love and affection and enhance the lives of people with special needs.

Mary Ann Apostol is a Baby Boomer, Jewelry Maker and Social Networker. Her Jewelry line Beautiful Dreamer Jewelry can be viewed at in-home or office parties around Broward County. For more information you can contact her at

Reprinted from June 2011

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