What do Therapy Dogs actually do?
There are many uses for Therapy Dogs; some of these are quantifiable, but most are not. Thus a great deal of the evidence is "anecdotal" (a term that brings fear to any clinician's brain). The list below ascends, unlike the previous one, from the most general and also unskilled to the most demanding level, requiring more training.
- Promoting a general feeling of wellbeing (children, elderly, general hospital admits)
- Providing unconditional affection to those who lack it (persons in prisons and shelters, especially domestic-abuse shelters)
- Improving focus (Alzheimers patients and persons suffering from clinical depression)
- Interacting with those who have difficulty communicating (nonverbal clients; some psychiatric inpatients; persons with a range of associative disorders)
- Stimulating memory functions (especially in Alzheimers patients)
- Encouraging and aiding speech functions (e.g., in stroke patients) Note that all the activities above rely on a combination of touching, talking about, etc., in most of which the dog does not have to "do" very much except act friendly and be willing to be handled a lot.
- Motivating simple physical activities for the mobility impaired (e.g., patting, brushing ,etc.)
- Providing practice for specific Physical Therapy functions (throwing ball, offering tidbits, etc.) In these cases, the dog may perform much more specific tasks, or at least may need more specific equipment. We are now attempting to locate horse-type brushes (the oval flat kind with a strap across the back) for patients who have difficulty uncurling their fingers. We also have a Hula Hoop, with which both the dog and some of the patients can practice specific movements.
- Modeling perseverance (many Therapy Dogs have been through terrible times -- patients often find it comforting that the Therapy Dog has not only survived these but have become useful to others).
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