What creature can make a calculus equation seem less daunting, help you remember your shopping list, keep angry teens from fighting, and improve your overall well-being?
Answer...a therapy animal!
A therapy animal is typically a family pet that is exceedingly social, and becomes specially trained and tested along with his/her owner, to provide affection and pleasure to people in the community. A service animal on the other hand is extensively trained to perform tasks to assist an individual with a disability.
Therapy animals often provide casual social visits to people in nursing homes, adult day centers, and hospices; or may be actively involved in sessions alongside therapists, teachers and counselors (Therapy Dogs Help Froedtert’s Rehabilitation Patients)
Either way, the benefit to those they spend time with is huge! Most commonly, therapy animals are dogs, although cats, bunnies and other domestic species can be therapy animals too.
Our own hearts have long told us that pets enrich our lives. Now scientific evidence tells us how! Neurological, chemical and hormonal changes occur during time with a therapy animal and can positively impact the way we think, feel, behave, and move! We’ve seen it happen or have heard touching stories of the nursing home resident who hadn’t spoken for some time, until the therapy cat was in her lap; the therapy dog that motivated a young child to finally walk after surgery.
So what makes a good therapy animal?
Just like jobs people have, jobs for animals require a specific skill set and personality. Appropriate identification of therapy animals is based in part on the animal’s social interest, manners, obedience skills, and confidence. There are things we can do to increase the likelihood of a dog being a suitable candidate for the role of therapy dog.
Positive socialization and positive training are musts!
Dogs develop positive qualities from exposure to pleasant, positive experiences. They learn best from a benevolent leader who is patient, clear, and gentle! Training a dog using force-free methods is the best way to groom your dog to be confident, social, and happy to serve you and others!
What are the steps to becoming a therapy partner with your pet?
- Build skills, confidence, and character in your dog by enrolling in a positive reinforcement training class.
- Check out membership requirements of various therapy animal groups. Two leading national organizations are Pet Partners (www.petpartners.org) and Intermountain Therapy Animals (www.therapyanimals.org). Choose one that supports your enlightened relationship.
- An objective assessment by a licensed evaluator along with complete adherence to high standards is critical for the safety and well being of all involved.
- Health Heelers offers one additional step that can take the guess work out of the process. Free pre-screenings assess your pet’s potential, interest and readiness for the job of therapy pet!
The world is full of kind, generous, and well-meaning people; some of whom want to share the love their pet gives, with others. As therapy animals become increasingly popular, having one is an attractive option for some people.
If you do have the opportunity to be a therapy team, always keep in mind the needs of your animal partner. Appropriate handlers understand their pet’s interests, needs, emotions and limits, and demonstrate respect and support of their animal at all times. Learn to read your animal’s body language and signs of stress. Understand that therapy animals are not
suited for every setting; even if you have broad interests. The frequency and duration of visits needs to determined by your pet’s comfort and endurance, not
by a clock on the wall. Quality is better than quantity!
Let’s be the best we can be for our loving and wonderful pets who give so much! And if becoming a therapy team isn’t in your future, you still have a great dog!
Consider experiencing other meaningful activities together such as canine nose work, rally obedience, tricks class and more; all offered by the great members of the Force Free Trainers of Wisconsin