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Guide Dogs - Service Dogs and Therapy Dogs

Updated on August 21, 2013

A Future Therapist?


Are Guide Dogs Service Dogs or Therapy Dogs?

Guide dog is a general term that doesn't quite accurately describe what these helping canines do. Animal Assisted Therapy, sometimes called Pet Therapy, is a process of using animals, primarily dogs, in the actual therapy of individuals in need. Therapy dogs are different from service dogs such as guide dogs. A guide dog goes through highly specialized training and is taught to perform specific functions such as assisting a blind person or a wheelchair bound patient. A service dog is dedicated to one person only, and typically stays with that person for life.Pet therapy, on the other hand, is not a system of training for adoption by a person in need, but rather looks to bring the pets to facilities that have expressed a need. The visits are short term.

Dr. Dave Hensen, a Long Island, New York veterinarian, heads up an organization called Patchogue Rotary Animal Assisted Therapy (PRAAT). The organization is largely staffed by volunteers, many of whom are members of local Rotary Clubs. They provide visits by specially trained dogs to facilities that have expressed interest. Places where the dogs visit include:

· Adult homes

· Hospitals, both pediatric and psychiatric wards

· Nursing homes

· Rehabilitation facilities

· Schools and libraries

How Pet Therapy at PRAAT Works

· Volunteers. A person who volunteers to have their dog trained by PRAAT pays $185, which is refunded after the completion of a required 24 facility visits. After that the commitment is for 24 visits per year.

· Screening. PRAAT therapy dogs are carefully screened for health and temperament. About 40 percent of the dogs screened are not accepted into the program.

· Training. PRAAT provides obedience training for the dogs that are accepted.

· Cost to the facility. A facility pays $30 per visit and most of that goes to insurance.

The Benefits of Animal Assisted Therapy

Pet therapy is a wonderful program for those suffering from a wide variety of ailments, including:

  • · Autism and other developmental problems
  • · Depression
  • · Withdrawal
  • · Alzheimer's
  • · Senility
  • · Anxiety

Dogs, especially those with naturally friendly dispositions such as Labradors and Golden Retrievers, just seem to love being with people, and the feeling is reciprocated. I saw this first hand when my late mother was suffering from advanced Alzheimer's. When I brought Molly, my Golden Retriever, to visit Mom, she appeared to visibly shake off her mental cobwebs and come to life. It was a transforming experience for Mom.

Organizations like PRAAT do this in a systematic way. According to Dr. Hensen, PRAAT uses a "gold standard" of Animal Assisted Therapy. They do not simply screen and train the dogs, but provide an organizational framework for providing the benefits to the facilities that they deal with. Not all facilities accept the program, worrying about health and liability concerns. If this appears to be short sighted it is.

Animal assisted therapy can be a wonderful experience for people in need, Not only does the person in need get to experience the loving attention of a dog, but the volunteer dog owner also gets to see, up front and personal, the effects of their charitable giving. The above video is not about PRAAT, but it gives you a wonderful overview of what Animal Assisted Therapy can do.

If pet therapy sounds like something that you want to get your dog involved in, you should seek out an animal assisted therapy organization near you. It can be great for you, great for your dog, and certainly a boost for the person in need.


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    • rfmoran profile image

      Russ Moran - The Write Stuff 5 years ago from Long Island, New York

      Dogs can be more than just friends.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 5 years ago from Olympia, WA

      I knew very little about this topic; thanks for the education my friend!