What Is a Therapy Dog?

Therapy dogs are highly trained dogs that visit nursing homes, rehabilitation centers, and other facilities. They offer comfort in the form of hands-on visits to those that seek their company. Animal-facilitated therapy work has become more widely accepted thanks to a tremendous amount of education and highly trained dogs to lead the way. Thanks to the many handlers who put lots of time and training into their dogs and who have worked to be sure their dogs are ready for anything, the profession of animal-facilitated therapy has become available to many people all over the country. In some facilities, especially rehabilitation hospitals, animal-facilitated therapy is highly recommended by doctors.

Animal therapy is used in all kinds of areas of rehabilitation. Therapists use it to increase attention, concentration, and range of motion, as well as to improve dexterity, balance, memory, and clarity of speech.

In these interactions, the dog may retrieve objects under the patient's direction, delivering them to the person's hand or lap. The dog may accompany the person who is learning to walk again, come to a person learning to use her voice again, or simply lie down next to someone who is undergoing uncomfortable physical therapy. In these cases the dog must be highly trained, sensitive to each patient's needs and under excellent control. Dogs used in animal-facilitated therapy are the ultimate in therapy dogs. They sometimes work with the most critically damaged and discouraged patients, helping them to get through a difficult time. The patients most likely to benefit from working with this type of dog have usually suffered a head injury or a stroke and are severally limited in their ability to interact with those around them. The overall goal here is to increase the patient's participation and cooperation so that they can derive the maximum benefit from their treatment.

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