Jill with two therapy dogs

Can a Dog Be a Therapist? Yes.

“I have a pet therapy dog.”

“What, your dog is in therapy?”

This is the reaction I get many times when visiting with new people. But pet assisted therapy is really just volunteers taking their own dogs to visit people of all ages and in many different types of situations. They may be people living in assisted living facilities, nursing homes or memory support units (also called Alzheimer’s units), patients dealing with illness or rehabilitation in hospitals, children in daycare or schools, students on college campuses, people at libraries or churches and so on. The opportunities are almost endless.

Because this also gives them a job to do, being a therapy pet can be considered therapeutic for dog – a true win-win situation. What better job than going somewhere that people pet, scratch and massage you, tell you you’re beautiful and make you feel important? Therapy dogs LOVE attention from everyone that will stop to pet them. It doesn’t matter to them what the people look like or if they have any type of disability. The dogs are non-judgmental.

Therapy dogs love their jobs and get excited about going out to put smiles on so many faces.  They will often make the association of a specific bag, bandana or special leash to know that they are going to work. But pet assisted therapy dogs are NOT service dogs. Service dogs have a different job to do, and should not be interrupted for petting and affection. You’ll be encouraged to approach therapy dogs and pet them – because this is their job!

In my future posts, I’ll be sharing some of the adventures and experiences my current therapy dog, a nine-year-old Norwegian Elkhound named Bo, and I have together with those we visit. Often, the bond between Bo and his new friends is so profound it’s even hard to put into words. But we’ll try our best. We also know many other volunteers with therapy pets, so we might share some of their great stories, too.

If you’re interested in volunteering with your dog in pet assisted therapy, let me know and I will share more about that in future posts as well. Therapy dogs can be any breed or mixed blessing, and age isn’t really a factor.  There is no perfect breed for therapy work – it all depends on the personality and temperament of the individual dog.

Photo: Jill poses with Bo (left) and her sister, Blizzard (right.)

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