Therapy dogs: which four-legged friends are suitable?

Unlike assistance dogs, therapy dogs are not specially trained for a single patient. Rather, together with their owner, they form a team that helps several people with animal-assisted medical treatment to heal and promotes their emotional well-being. Find out which dogs are best suited for this and which tasks they have to take on. Labrador and Golden Retriever are often used as therapy dogs - Jose Luis Stephens

Therapy dogs are used, for example, to accompany psychotherapy for people with mild to moderate depression or anxiety disorders. But you can also help children with learning disorders, for example as support for occupational therapy. Unlike for assistance dogs, there are no special rights for therapy dogs, for example when traveling on a plane. This is because the animals do not belong to the patient themselves, but to the therapist.

What do therapy dogs do?

Therapy dogs form a team with professional therapists or educators and help mentally or neurologically ill people as well as children and adults with intellectual disabilities and learning disorders. This method is called animal-assisted therapy, whereby the dog complements and positively influences the treatment, but cannot replace it. Encounter, communication and contact with dogs, for example, can lower blood pressure and reduce stress. The four-legged friends do not judge, have no expectations of the people, do not reproach and take everyone as they are.

Dogs perceive moods and feelings without criticizing them or giving well-intentioned advice. In this way, they convey compassion, warmth, security and security. In addition, the "cuddly hormone" oxytocin is released when we pet dogs. They make contact with people without prejudice, play with them and give them loving care. This can significantly promote the success of the therapy.

However, the therapists should always make sure that their animal companion feels comfortable. There are therefore certain rules, such as the "working hours" of the animals. Therapy dogs, for example, are usually only allowed to accompany a single therapeutic session of 45 minutes, and only three days a week. Exceptions can be made under certain circumstances. The four-legged friends do not live in a specific facility, but at their human partner's home.

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Requirements for therapy dogs

Therapy dogs must not be fearful or insecure, and strong territorial behavior is also undesirable. In terms of character, animals with a calm nature are suitable, who are patient, peaceful and self-contained. In addition, a friendly, trusting manner and social skills are important. A sensitive, empathetic personality is an advantage, but at the same time you have to be resistant to stress and unrest around you. Sick animals or those with pain are not suitable because they may react aggressively or unpredictably when patients stroke them.

The education with regard to the use as a therapy dog ​​should begin in the puppy age, but on their first "working day" the four-legged friends are best a little bigger, at least one year old. You should get along with other animals as well as with other people and like them. A therapy dog ​​cannot afford to jump up, pull on a leash or other bad manners. He must listen carefully to his holder and not let himself be disturbed by strange smells, noises and other impressions.

Furthermore, certain hygienic requirements must be met. The therapy dogs must be checked before each use to ensure that they are clean and regularly checked by a veterinarian. This includes the general state of health, possible parasite infestation and fecal examinations. In addition, the vaccinations must always be up to date.

Are some dog breeds better suited than others?

Basically, all dog breeds and mixed breeds can be raised and used as therapy dogs. The most important thing is that the chemistry between the dog and the owner is right and that there is a strong bond between the two. However, there are some breeds that are a little better than others. Typically, these are dogs that have been bred for close collaboration with humans.

Companion and companion dogs such as the Maltese, pug or poodle, for example, are mostly friendly, peaceful and people-oriented. Herding dogs, working and working dogs like the German Shepherd, the Bernese Mountain Dog or Australian Shepherd also like to work with people and are obedient and loyal if they are well behaved. Saint Bernards, Leonbergers and Newfoundlanders are also almost stoic. Some hunting dog breeds, such as the friendly beagle, the Labrador or the Golden Retriever with their pronounced "will to please" (will to please), are also good therapy dogs if socialized accordingly.

Whether you choose a large, medium or small dog for animal-assisted therapy depends on its area of ​​application. Larger dogs are better suited for working with children and adolescents; small four-legged friends are more suitable for older people, since they can sit on their laps or snuggle up in bed.

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