Lending a helping... From page 27 | Daily News

Lending a helping... From page 27

Dog power to help,heal and give hope

Pet animals are commonly considered as family members, and the human-animal bond has become a household term and most pet owners have more than one pet. The human-animal bond has also increased focus on ensuring that animals receive adequate consideration and care.

What is pet therapy?

Pet therapy is a guided interaction between a person and a trained animal. The purpose of pet therapy is to help someone recover from or cope a health problem or mental disorder. Since 1980’s, there have been significant advances in the field of animal assisted therapy and the use of therapy dogs was originated when the public began to take animals into nursing homes and other facilities to share them with residents. Unless medically supervised, these programmes are termed “animal-assisted activities,” whereas those directed as part of medical treatment are termed “Animal-Assisted Therapy” (AAT).

Dogs and cats are most commonly used in pet therapy. However, fish, guinea pigs, horses, and other animals that meet screening criteria can also be used. The type of animal chosen depends on the therapeutic goals of a person’s treatment plan.

Procedures to screen animals and provide training for the people involved are offered and have been standardized by health professionals through the International Association for Animal-Assisted Therapy.

Human-Animal Bond

Pet animals are commonly considered as family members, and the human-animal bond has become a household term and most pet owners have more than one pet. The human-animal bond has also increased focus on ensuring that animals receive adequate consideration and care. The various aspects of the human-animal bond will thrive both financially and in terms of finding their work enjoyable and rewarding.

Who is a therapy dog?

Therapy dogs and their owners work together as a team to improve the lives of other people. Therapy dogs go with their owners to volunteer in settings such as schools, hospitals, and nursing homes; working with a child who is learning to read or visiting a senior in assisted living. Therapy dogs are not service dogs that are specially trained to perform specific tasks to help a person who has a disability. As dogs are lovely and obedient companions most of the pet therapy schemes use dogs.

1. Suitable dog breeds

There are several dog breeds suitable and recognized as to be used as therapy dogs. They are;1. Labrador Retriever

Labrador retriever is a highly versatile breed with extraordinary intelligence. They are friendly and social and are hence ideal to be trained as therapy dogs.

2. German Shepherd

When trained properly, German Shepherds are one of the best breeds for therapy. They are loyal, obedient, gentle and social.

3. Greyhound

Greyhounds may not be the first choice when thinking about therapy dogs, but they do perform their job well. They are quiet, affectionate and good sleeping companions as they do not bark much.

4. Beagle

Apart from being small in size and having a gentle demeanor, Beagle dogs are also the best therapy companions. They are active, entertaining and friendly with new people.

5. Rottweiler

Though Rottweilers are tough in appearance, they are good for therapy work if they are trained well.

6. Saint Bernard

Due to their thick, fluffy coats, Saint Bernards are especially popular as therapy dogs for children. These dogs usually don’t snap or bark at children when they pull the dog’s tail or fur. Saint Bernard is incredibly protective and obedient and is also very patient.

7. Pomeranian

Elderly individuals often go for Pomeranians as thesesmall breed dogs are extremely friendly and social. Pomeranians often take all the love and affection they can get!

8. Pug

This small breed with wrinkled skin and big, puppy-dog eyes is a people pleaser. In addition, pugs work well as therapy dogs. These dogs particularly provide comfort to children suffering from various neuro-development disorders such as autism. They are also favourable pets, if you live in a small apartment.

9. French Bulldog

French Bulldogs are adorable lap dogs and even-tempered by nature. They crave affection and are best for therapy work. These dogs are great with children as well as adults as they are very quiet and friendly companions.

10. Pembroke Welsh Corgi

Pembroke Welsh Corgi, commonly known as Corgis, are excellent watch dogs. This breed provides great solace after the death of a loved one and also provides comfort when an individual is sick.

How to develop dog as a therapy dog?

The dog should be certified and trained at a qualified therapy dog organization. The dog should earn “Therapy Dog title” on the skills and create a sound and friendly temperament needed by a successful therapy dog which is offered with three basic requirements.

A. Health requirements

1) Annual Check-up by Veterinarian within the past year.

2) Mandatory Rabies Vaccine


3) An initial series of core Distemper, Hepatitis, and Parvovirus Vaccinations.

4) A negative Fecal Exam must have been done within the past year.

5) A negative Heartworm test must have been done within the past year.

B. Graduation certificates of Basic Obedience

C. A letter of recommendation from an Animal Health Care Professional (Veterinarian).

Therapy activities

The doctor or therapist manage treatment goal which should be administered by pet therapy. The success of pet therapy depends on establishing realistic goals. The trained handler and the animal work under the directions of the doctor or therapist have to reach the goals. If your progress is slower or faster than expected, they may alter your treatment plan. Pet therapy can help both children and adults with a variety of physical and mental issues. It can reduce stress, anxiety, and depression, and increase positivity and socialization.

The health and well being of the animal is of utmost importance so that we do not negatively impact the animal’s health or temperament and improvement of the health goals should be monitored and recorded. The first step in pet therapy is the selection of a suitable animal. The animal’s type, breed, size, age, and natural behavior will determine where it will be most helpful.

Walking a Pet Therapy Dog

Walking a therapy dog is an exercise that may be used to improve range of motion, endurance, balance, proprioception, coordination, and gross/fine motor skills.

Using Play with the Therapy Dog

The play activities with the therapy dog to improve grip strength, range of motion, positional tolerance, balance and coordination. The patient can progress from sitting to standing, to single leg stance, or standing on an uneven surface to challenge balance and coordination.

Basic Care Activities with the Pet Therapy Dog

Basic care activities, such as feeding and bathing a pet therapy dog, may prove to be useful with address sequencing, range of motion, balance and coordination as well as both fine and gross motor skills, improve positional tolerance, endurance, grip the bowl, pinch a piece of food between their fingers.

What benefit the patient can get?

Pet therapy builds on the pre-existing human-animal bond. During a medical procedure, people may have less anxiety if a pet is present. In rehabilitation, people may be more motivated to recover and practice their therapy when working with a pet. People who have sensory disabilities can sometimes communicate more easily with an animal. This encourages more interaction with healthcare providers and other people.

Interacting with a friendly pet can help reduce blood pressure, improve overall cardiovascular health, release endorphins that produce a calming effect, alleviate pain, reduce stress, improving motor skills and joint movement, improving assisted or independent movement, increasing self-esteem, increasing verbal communication, developing social skills, increasing willingness to join in activities, improving interactions with others, motivating willingness to exercise, making happier, lessening depression, decreasing loneliness and isolation, reducing boredom, reducing anxiety, helping children learn empathic and nurturing skills, improving the relationship etc

Therapeutic Goals

There are several therapeutic goals one can achieve by dog therapy. They can be summarized as;

Balance, Endurance, Fine and Gross Motor Skills, Memory/Cognitive, Problem Solving, Range of Motion, Self Esteem, Sensory Stimulation, Speech, Strength etc.

Benefit for the dog

Dogs that are trained as therapy dogs can obtain Therapy Dog Titles. Few examples of those titles are; Therapy Dog Novice - completed 10 visits, Therapy Dog - completed 50 visits, Therapy Dog Advanced - completed 100 visits, Therapy Dog Excellent - completed 200 visits and Therapy Dog Distinguished - completed 400 visits.

What type of patients need dog therapy?

There are range of patients needs dog therapy from cerebral palsy, autism, stroke, or head injury, upper extremity injury, undergoing chemotherapy, in long-term care facilities, chronic heart failure, veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder, children having physical or dental procedures, undergoing physical therapy to regain motor skills, mental health disorders etc

Places where dog therapy can be used

The dog therapy can be used in places where the patient is present such as hospitals, Rana Wiru Sevana, children homes, elders’ homes, schools, special schools and also at home.

.What are the risks of pet therapy?

Some of the biggest risks of pet therapy involve safety and sanitation. People who are allergic to animal dander may have reactions during pet therapy. Animals in pet therapy programs are typically screened for behavior and health. An animal’s handler must also undergo training and an evaluation to help ensure a positive experience.

While uncommon, human injury can occur when unsuitable animals are used. Animals may also suffer injury or abuse when handled inappropriately. In some cases, people may become possessive of the animals helping them and be reluctant to give them up after a session.

This can result in low self-esteem and depression.

Can my dog become a Therapy Dog?

Yes and mostly welcome. But the dog may need special training and standardization.

Dog should be healthy and physically fit for this job. You also have to be a volunteer as the dog owner/ handler for the time the therapy dog is used.

(The writer is a Senior Lecturer, Sri Lanka Animal Husbandry School, Department of Animal Production and Health, Karandagolla, Kundasale.

She is also Former Government Veterinary Surgeon, Former Principal at Animal Husbandry Training Center, Undugoda, Kegalle and Former Veterinary Surgeon Training at Institute of Continuing Education, Peradeniya)


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