I often get questioned by people why I choose to do pet therapy and does it work?
Therapy dogs visits have a number of benefits. Therapy dogs visit a number of different places ranging from hospitals, libraries, schools, work places, nursing homes, court houses, airports to dementia units.
Benefits of Having Therapy Dogs in Schools and higher places of learning
By having an accredited therapy dog at your school/University you will have endless benefits for your students, staff, and overall school.
Therapy dogs improve connectivity, attendance, enhance academic performance, improve relationships, and help with challenging behaviors. These dogs help promote empathy, increased ability to regulate and self regulate, decrease time out of class, increase of self managing, lowers accidents and incidents, they also help de-escalate situations, and help to redirect behaviors. The benefits are clear when the environment is calm learning is enhanced.
7 scientifically proven ways therapy dogs improve wellbeing in a school environment.
1. Decreases stress and anxiety in both students and staff.
2. Helps students get ready to learn. (Also takes the pressure off students) and staff too.
3. Increased connections between staff, students, and the wider community, as it brings everyone together.
4. Emotional and empathetic awareness is increased. This helps to create awareness of emotional, empathetic awareness between students and the rest of the school.
5. Regulates emotions and reactivity.
6. Recognize rules of safety and the importance.
7. Creates an environment where students can learn.
The emotional benefits are endless. They improve self esteem, provide feelings of acceptance without judgement; instantly lift peoples mood; provide a calming effect and reduce anxiety, depress and lowers blood pressure and heart rate. Some therapy dogs can even predict an anxiety attack and help to calm them down before they reach a full blown attack.
Therapy dogs often help open clear and honest lines of communication. Students who previously wouldn’t open up to anyone will feel relaxed and and start talking freely.
Students with learning difficulties/disabilities reduce their stress and anxiety around dogs as they aren’t being judged and in addition animals just want to love and support them through the situation. Students who once wouldn’t even try, and now completing and excelling tasks with their furry friend beside them for support.
Benefits of Therapy Dogs in Aged Care
Aged care can be a very sad, lonely and sometimes scary place at first visit. Witnessing some residents lonely in their room. Having therapy dogs visit aged care facilities isn't just beneficial for the residents but also the staff, and the families that have loved ones now residing there. This is especially advantageous when you have regular visits on set days/times as everyone in the facility actively looks forward to it, and is often a big talking point, as it boosts everyone's mood. It also brought a lot of joy to me seeing the reaction of the residents that responded so well.
The Animal Welfare League (AWL) of New South Wales advocates for elderly people engaging with pets as it increases their quality of life, including by reducing tension, fatigue, and confusion, while also encouraging positive emotions and attitudes.
Pet therapy visits help residents and staff by:
Increases residents physical exercise/movement. This is often down with residents who do not want to leave their room. Often they will come out of their room into the common area to say hello, pat and sometimes walk with the therapy dog.
Increase socialisation as therapy dogs bring back old memories of their past, or present dog, and they will always love to share their memories with you, and your therapy dog. This also helps with residents that have recently moved into aged care, and no longer have their pet live with them. This feel of a loss is devastating for them. This is why therapy dog visits are vital for improving mental health, and emotional well being and brings some dignity back to their lives.
lowers blood pressure and cholesterol.
can minimise pain
recover quicker from illness, surgery, and deal with stressful situations better.
make people feel loved and needed.
Phoenix and myself Visiting my Grandma in Aged Care.
Benefits of pet therapy for dementia patients
Our weekly visits to Hammond Care the dementia unit allowed us to gain first hand experience and benefits of our Pet therapy visits. I loved seeing first hand the smiles and tears that came to residents, staff, and families faces when we arrived. We were fortunate enough to have so many cherished memories especially seeing non verbal residents then express a few words, to both Phoenix the therapy dog and myself. These moments were precious given these visits were able to provide comfort and ease their pain as they passed away peacefully.
This is because Therapy Dogs have amazing effects on people with dementia due to their calming and loving nature. This is evident as they can be quite soothing, and often help them to communicate both verbal/non verbal, and actions. Evidence from studies suggest that therapy dogs cause a person with dementia to re-engage with their surroundings and what is happening around them, this is priceless.
A German study from 2014 found dementia residents in a nursing home had improved verbal communication function and greater attentiveness after completing a pet therapy program. Backing up the benefits of pet therapy, a 2020 Australian study found that dog assisted therapy seemed to have a positive effect on recipients, including improving the baseline depression scores in residents.
Pet therapy can fit in with personal care goals
When an older person loses the capacity to do something they had previously been quite proficient at, it can bring a sense of loss to that individual.
Some of the goals pet therapy programs can help with include:
Improving motor skills and joint movement
Improving assisted or independent movement
Increasing in verbal communication and development of social skills
Improving willingness to join in activities
Motivation to exercise
When our Hammond Care visits came to an end due to us moving we didn't really take into account how our Therapy Dog visits really benefited everyone. One staff member came up to us and told us that our visits carried on into the next day. How I asked? Apparently, after our weekly visits not only did their mood increase, and everyone was happy, but the residents would often eat all of their meals and sleep better that night, with the added benefit that the next day they also were happier . To my amazement the resident families come in just to meet the therapy dogs they had heard about, or saw photos. These families were so happy knowing their loved ones were getting special visits, and it eased their pain and guilt. The staff also noted how they also loved the therapy dog visits, not just for the residents, but it was a way they could decompress. It brought tears to my eyes, and made me so very proud of the special, wonderful work my two therapy dogs do.
Finally, not every dog can be a therapy dog. It takes a special dog. Some therapy dogs are better than others. Therapy dogs' are so very powerful, and are underused in society.