Dogs are the most popular pets in Germany and are not considered for free "man’s best friend" designated. Every dog owner knows this – the four-legged friend feels when one is not feeling well mentally or physically and its presence alone has a relaxing and calming effect on us. 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. 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 patients to overcome different symptoms or certain illnesses. They lower high blood pressure, relieve anxiety and depression, as well as language and social disorders. Great successes have been achieved so far, especially 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?
A therapy dog is often mistakenly referred to as an assistance dog or visiting dog. However, the differences between them are quite large.
- Therapy dog, also as "Comfort dog" is used in many different areas and institutions. However, the dog does not live with the patient, but with the therapist. It accompanies its owner to hospitals, kindergartens, schools, retirement homes or to individual therapy sessions and is integrated into a special course of therapy. Therapy dogs are always trained and used in a specific area of application "active" and "reactive" divided. Active dogs actively encourage the patient to do something, for example play or run, while reactive therapy dogs behave relatively passively and react to the sensitivities of the person being 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. You live with the patient and the training begins as a puppy. The best known assistance dogs are the guide dogs. There are also diabetic warning dogs, epilepsy dogs and signal dogs. It is important to mention here that the costs for the training are not covered by the health insurance. The prices vary from 8,000 to around 30,000 euros, depending on the disease.
- Visiting dogs are more often mistaken for therapy dogs. They also have to have a certain degree of training, but they are not specifically used in therapy and the owner does not have to be a psychotherapist or doctor. Small children, senior citizens in old people’s homes or people with disabilities can particularly benefit from contact with visiting dogs. The four-legged friends can be petted and touched and by playing and being around people can calm down and give them joy. So it is very important that they are people-friendly, easy-going and socialized.
How can animal-protected therapy promote our health?
A therapy dog is now used in very different areas and can, for example, help in the treatment of depression, outbursts of aggression, autism, language disorders and other psychological and physical disabilities. Animals can make great progress, especially when working with children. But 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 endorphins and oxytocin and lower the level of cortisol.
- Therapy dog for depression – It has been proven that the presence of a dog improves our mood significantly. Therapy dogs help patients struggling with depression and anxiety build confidence and give them affection, comfort, and a sense of security.
- For physical complaints – By asking them to play or take short walks, therapy dogs help increase the patient’s physical performance.
- Therapy dog for high blood pressure – As already mentioned, caressing your four-legged friend stimulates the secretion of the "Happiness hormones" Endorphin and oxytocin. This, in turn, can lower blood pressure and heart rate.
- It is not for nothing that psychotherapists with therapy dogs are so often invited to schools and kindergartens. Contact with the four-legged friend improves the children’s ability to concentrate and react and leads to a Increase in performance.
Which breeds are best for therapy dogs?
With therapy dogs, it is not the breed that plays a decisive role, but rather the character of the animal. Larger breeds like Labradors, Golden Retrievers, and German Shepherds are most often trained to do this. But smaller breeds such as the mini poodle or pomeran are also very good choices if you tend to work with children. Above all, a therapy dog must meet the following basic requirements:
- Patient and calm being
- Joy and openness towards strangers
- Good obedience and social behavior
- Balance and high tolerance to stress and stimuli
- No territorial behavior
- Easy to manage and close to its owner