Therapy Dogs: Helping Those In NeedThu, May 16, 2013,
When most people think of working dogs a few things come to mind: sled dogs, seeing eye dogs or police dogs, for example. But there is another very important service that dogs often perform, being a therapy dog. These are dogs that provide affection for people who need it most. From nursing homes to disaster areas, these wonderful dogs brighten up people’s days.
It makes sense. After all, dogs are some of the most loving animals in the world. So why wouldn’t we want to harness that positive energy to help people? So rather than pull a heavy object or track down a criminal, these dogs have a very special skill: they allow strangers to make physical contact.
The first recorded therapy dog is a Yorkshire Terrier named Smoky. Smoky accompanied his master, a Corporal named William Wynne, on missions during World War II. There he provided comfort to the troops and made an extremely stressful situation a little bit less so. Evidence has shown that on a biological level interactions with dogs does help increase oxytocin and dopamine (which help produce positive feelings) while lowering cortisol (which helps cause stressful feelings).
These days the most well-known use of therapy dogs is in retirement and nursing homes, where the dogs will interact with the residents and brighten their day. They also often work at hospitals and schools, with people who have learning disabilities and are brought in to help those who suffered in disaster areas.
To work as a therapy dog, the most important factor is that the dogs must be friendly, patient, gentle and calm. They have to enjoy human contact and be comfortable with strangers petting and hugging them. There is no doubt that these dogs bring much joy to people at a time when they need it most, and for that they should be celebrated. These are truly wonderful dogs.