What is a Therapy Dog?
Therapy dogs are sometimes called “comfort dogs.” They support a person’s mental health by providing attention and comfort. Their sweet demeanors and unconditional love may have a therapeutic benefit to those who face difficult health challenges. Unlike service dogs, however, anyone can enjoy a therapy dog.
A therapy dog differs from a service dog, in that animals used for service assist and focus on its human to the exclusion of all else. Service dogs are trained to provide specific support for individuals with special needs, disabilities or injuries, such as visual or hearing difficulties, PTSD, seizure disorders, and mobility challenges.
Therapy Dogs and People’s Nervous Systems
A therapy dog’s role is to react and respond to people and their environment, under the guidance and direction of their main human. For example, an individual might be encouraged to gently pat or talk to a dog to teach sensitive touch and help them be calm.
I like to use animals in therapy because they help people who might not feel as comfortable with a person, sometimes regulate easier.
Dreamer is a Wolfhound-X Therapy Hound
Dreamer is the clinic Therapy Hound. Dreamer’s mother is a pure breed Wolfhound and her father a Stag/Deer Hound. She was born in the Braidwood region and has been bonding with me since she was four weeks old.
At about 9 weeks old, Dreamer came home with me, and after 18 months of training, she now works as a Therapy Dog with people in clinic and in Nature (ecotherapy) sessions.
Due to her “giant breed” size, Dreamer takes up a lot of space. In the 2020-21 summer she became mam to 8 pups, who have gone out to families around NSW to continue her therapeutic work.
Dreamer has her own hashtag : #dreamerhound and her own Instagram Profile : @dreamerhound_. If you take photos of Dreamer when at BHT, feel free to add your photos to social media, using the hashtag and tag @hollie.bakerboljkovac too.
If you’re not into dogs, be sure to let me know when you book your session. Your appointment will be scheduled on Dreamer’s day off.
Providing Comfort and Support
Therapy animals are used in many professions as a way to provide comfort and support for people in uncomfortable circumstances. Research has shown therapy dogs can reduce stress and provide a sense of connection in difficult situations.
Animals accept us as we are — they don’t judge and they don’t threaten — so clients can wholeheartedly interact with them safe in the knowledge that there is no hidden agenda.
Individuals with emotionally based disorders may find it difficult to open up and trust another human being, and exploring this process is much easier with a therapy animal. Frequently reported benefits from pet-therapy programs include a reduction in stress, a boost in self-esteem, improved mood, and better communication skills.
Benefits of Therapy Dogs
Animal assisted therapy can:
- teach empathy and appropriate interpersonal skills
- help individuals develop social skills
- be soothing (decreasing stress and anxiety)
- help individuals gain confidence
- presence of animals can more quickly build rapport between the practitioner and client
- improve individual’s skills to pick up social cues imperative to human relationships
A recent report highlighted children working with therapy dogs experienced increased motivation for learning, resulting in improved outcomes.
Improving Social, Cognitive and Emotional Functioning
Therapy dogs are a form of animal assisted therapy. This aims to improve a client’s social, cognitive and emotional functioning. A health care professional who uses a therapy dog in treatment may be viewed as less threatening, potentially increasing the connection between the client and professional.
Animals can help to facilitate emotional or physical mental health and wellbeing simply via their presence in a treatment situation. Having a therapy dog onsite is not a specific psychological intervention, but does help clients feel calm, supported and comfortable in the therapeutic setting.
Therapy dogs are used to support children or adults with social and emotional learning needs, which in turn can assist with literacy development.
Therapy Dogs used for Trauma & PTSD
Research suggests using therapy dogs in response to traumatic events can help reduce symptoms of depression, post traumatic stress disorder and anxiety.
The human-animal bond can impact people and animals in positive ways. Therapy dogs can reduce stress physiologically (cortisol levels) and increase attachment responses that trigger oxytocin – a hormone that increases trust in humans.
Therapy Dogs for Depression
Animal therapy is often used for clients with depression. Petting an animal is appears to cause the release of endorphins (feel-good neurotransmitters) which can have an extremely positive impact in clients dealing with depressive disorders.
By focusing on the animal and its needs, the client’s attention is drawn away from their own problems. Clients also have an opportunity to develop their nurturing skills and are encouraged to develop a sense of empathy with the animal.
Animals can also introduce some fun into sessions which can help defuse tension during challenging discussions.
Therapy Dogs for Addiction
The presence of an animal can in itself help calm the people down and prepare them to face more difficult topics for discussion.
Therapy animals have an important part to play in addiction recovery when viewed through the lens of Compassionate Enquiry. Read more about my view of addiction here >>>
Other animals used for Animal-Assisted Therapies
Therapy dogs are just one type of therapy animal. Other pets that are often used for emotional support are cats, rabbits, chickens, birds, horses — even llamas and alpacas.
People attending ecotherapy sessions in the mountains of Mongarlowe are able to work with my Equine Assistants in sessions.
Try it at the Institute for Self Crafting
If you attend face to face sessions, Dreamer will be there. She goes everywhere with me. If you’re attending remote sessions and have your own dog, I can help you understand how your dog might be working therapeutically with you. Furthermore, if you’re planning to get a dog for therapeutic purposes, I can provide you with some tips for finding the right dog. Let’s talk about that in session.
Wellness Nerds : Get Educated
Want to know more about the science behind Animal-Assisted Therapy? Click here to get a list of published articles to nerd-out on the literature. The branding looks a little different, because it was made in the days when I had a local Wellness Facility called Braidwood Holistic Therapies. Branding different, Content still the same 🙂
The article Dreamer the Therapy Hound was published by Hollie Bakerboljkovac, for the Institute for Self Crafting.
Feel free to share this article with your friends, by using the url : https://instituteforselfcrafting.com/dreamer/.
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