Therapy dog: what is it and what advantages does it have for our health?
Dogs are the most popular pets in Germany and are not called “the best friend of man” for nothing. Every dog owner knows this – the four-legged friend senses when one is mentally or physically not well and only his presence has a relaxing and calming effect on us. Now the healing effect of dogs on our health has been scientifically proven several times and the popularity of animal-protected therapy with dogs is increasing more and more. But what exactly is a therapy dog and in which areas is it used?
Therapy dogs are trained dogs that are used as part of therapeutic treatment. Our four-legged friends help the patient to overcome different symptoms or certain diseases. They lower high blood pressure, relieve anxiety and depression, as well as language and social disorders. So far, great success has been achieved, particularly in psychotherapy, speech therapy, occupational therapy and curative education. However, the work of a therapy dog is quite exhausting for the animal and for this reason the working hours are regulated by law. It may only be used 3 times a week for 45 minutes a day.
Therapy dog - what exactly is it?
Erroneously, a therapy dog is often referred to as an assistance dog or visiting dog. However, the differences between them are quite large.
- Therapy dog, also known as a “comfort dog”, is used in many different areas and facilities. However, the dog does not live with the patient, but with the therapist. It accompanies its owner in hospitals, kindergartens, schools, retirement homes or individual therapy sessions and is integrated in a special therapy process. Therapy dogs are always trained for a specific area of application and are divided into “active” and “reactive”. Active dogs actively ask the patient to do something, for example play or run while reactive therapy dogs behave relatively passively and react to the condition of the person to be treated.
What is the difference between therapy dogs, assistance dogs and visiting dogs?
- Assistance dogs are specially selected and trained to support people with physical or mental disabilities in everyday life. They live together with the patient and the training begins at puppy age. The best known assistance dogs are the guide dogs for the blind. There are also diabetic warning dogs, epilepsy dogs or signal dogs. It is important to mention that the costs for the training will not be covered by the health insurance. The prices vary depending on the illness from 8000 to about 30,000 euros.
- Visiting dogs are often mistaken for therapy dogs. They must also have a certain level of training, but they are not used specifically in therapy and the owner need not be a psychotherapist or doctor. Young children, senior citizens in old people's homes or people with disabilities can benefit greatly from contact with visiting dogs. The four-legged friends can be petted and touched and, by playing and their presence, calming the people and making them happy. It is therefore very important that they are people-friendly, relaxed and socialized.
How can animal welfare therapy promote our health?
A therapy dog is now used in very different areas and can help, for example, in the treatment of depression, outbreaks of aggression, autism, speech disorders and other psychological and physical disabilities. The animals can make great progress, especially when working with children. Animal-protected therapy can also be very useful for adults. Scientific studies have shown that petting and playing with the animal can stimulate the release of endorphin and oxytocin and lower the level of cortisol.
- Therapy dog for depression – It has been proven that the presence of a dog significantly improves our mood. Therapy dogs help patients who are struggling with depression and anxiety to build up more self-confidence and give them affection, comfort and a feeling of security.
- For physical complaints – By encouraging them to play or take small walks, therapy dogs help increase the patient's physical performance.
- Therapy dog for high blood pressure – As already mentioned, stroking the four-legged friend stimulates the release of the “happiness hormones” endorphin and oxytocin. This in turn can lead to a decrease in blood pressure and pulse rate.
- It is not for nothing that psychotherapists with therapy dogs are so often invited to schools and kindergartens. The contact with the four-legged friend improves the children's ability to concentrate and react and leads to one Increase in performance.
Which breeds are best for therapy dogs?
In therapy dogs it is not the breed that matters, but rather the character of the animal. Larger breeds such as Labrador, Golden Retriever and German Shepherd are most trained for this. But smaller breeds such as mini poodles or Pomeranian are also a very good choice if you are more likely to work with children. A therapy dog must meet the following basic requirements:
- Patient and calm being
- Friends and openness to strangers
- Good obedience and social behavior
- Balance and high tolerance to stress and stimuli
- no territorial behavior
- Easy leadership and close ties to its owner
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