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Therapy dogs and improving emotional states

Updated on August 13, 2013

The cliche A Dog is a Man’s Best Friend takes on added meaning when it becomes a therapy dog. Not only does it become a cherished friend, it provides much needed help and therapeutic value to a varied number of special communities, including the elderly, children in homes and those with special needs. This article hopes to bring to light these admirable canines, their owners and give them the overdue credit and respect they deserve.

My observations of these awesome canines at work have developed in me a fondness and admiration for these animals. I am awestruck by how they are able to serve as bridges of both connection, healing, and most importantly, compassion.

Moments with Baxter

Animal Assisted Therapy

Animal Assisted Therapy

Animal Assisted Therapy involves suitable dogs interacting with patients suffering from chronic illness, loneliness, depression, helplessness and a low self esteem.It targets the improvement of their emotional well being through the animal-human bond.

Such therapy has an emotional function, so it is essential not to confuse these therapy dogs with those which are specifically trained to assist the visually challenged or perform other forms of physical therapy. Instead, the training and service of therapy dogs has an emotional focus.

Cognitive, Communication and Socialization Therapy

Therapy dogs provide emotional stimulation and companionship. They provide the motivation necessary to stimulate clients to speak. Clients who remember their pets have a stimulus to talk about them. These canines can provide the much needed fun factor when they play ball games or dress up with their clients. They stimulate memory and help very much with the development of social skills.

Therapy dogs encourage reading

The good that these dogs do

A therapy dog does bring many emotional benefits for those who need them, sometimes being more able to lend a hand than their human counterparts. They are able to extend a hand to others where we ourselves are not able to, in ways that are pleasantly surprising.

Therapy dogs communicate with people others are not able to reach.

A good therapy dog is able to communicate with people others may not be able to reach.

People who have not been able to speak for some time are amazingly able to do so after these dogs have had interactions with them. Such dogs can act as a communication bridge between ourselves and those who need healing; simply sitting by a person who needs help moving his or her hand stimulates him or her to move her hand to touch it and reach outside himself.

Simply taking therapy dog for a walk stimulates a person to socialize a little more - and these dogs become a bridge for further outreach to their clients.

In Singapore, volunteers from Therapy Dogs, Singapore bring their dogs to interact with residents at various homes, including homes for the intellectually disabled. An autistic resident at one of their adopted homes, Mindsville, has improved in his social skills after interacting with one of the dogs, Zephyr. He began to reach out and touch Zephyr when he previously would not speak at all.

Therapy dogs socialize children who have not been exposed to dogs.

Interacting with a therapy dogs helps children who have not been exposed to them get to understand the nature of dogs a little more. It helps to quash fears and many of these children end up interacting beautifully with the dogs in the process.

At the Asian Women’s Welfare Association Children’s Home, the dogs bring much joy to children of various disadvantaged backgrounds. Some of these children have not had the opportunity of interacting with dogs. Gentle therapy dogs help to bring them out of their shells.

Therapy dogs increase the attention span of children.

These dogs give kids something to focus on, if only for a while. Children have sustained interest where fun is concerned and that includes fun with a therapy dog, playing ball games and catch with them. They are on task, at least momentarily!

Therapy Dogs brings its volunteers and their dogs to the Asian Women’s Welfare Association’s special school for children, where these animals reach out to many children who have various attention, isolation or dependency issues.Their presence even encourages reading!

Therapy dogs improve one’s sense of humor.

The antics of these gentle yet fun loving canines brings a smile to client’s faces. Many of the clients of Therapy Dogs, Singapore look forward to the visits of these animals, who have become hot favorites. These dogs play games with them, including dress up, providing a real laugh! The enjoyment makes the volunteer work especially rewarding.

The visit of a therapy dog can raise self-esteem.

Therapy dogs can improve one’s feelings of self-worth. Going for a walk with a therapy dog boost self esteem because their clients feel needed when they are assigned with the responsibility of taking care of animals. Little wonder that the clients of these dogs look forward to their visits!

Lowers pain through increased endorphin flow

Endorphins are neurotransmitters that trigger off happy, relaxed feelings. Interacting with a therapy dog can ease pain at least temporarily. Medical research has proven that these dogs lower pain levels through the increased flow of endorphins. Adults who use pet therapy while recovering from surgery require 50 percent less pain medication. Indeed, Animal Assisted Therapy is becoming a recognized method of physical healing.

In a study from Loyola University, Julia Havey, who presented the case findings from the study provided evidence suggesting that Animal Assisted Therapy has an effect on patient

s psychosocial, emotional and physical well being. They reduce the need for pain medication and reduce stress as well. Havey herself often brings dogs to Loyola University to train them as service animals.

Therapy Dogs reduce isolation and negative dependency.

Therapy dogs can bring sufferers of autism out of their shells. One of the autistic clients of Therapy Dogs Singapore has a specific fondness for golden retrievers and would not touch any other breed of canine. The golden retriever, Reegan, definitely served as a bridge between her and the rest of the world. She would not touch any other dog!

When clients take these canines out on walks, the role reversal serves to boost his self-confidence. He becomes the one to be depended upon and needed, increasing his self-worth and esteem.


Caring therapy dogs at work

What are the characteristics of a good therapy dog?

Your dog should be of a suitable age.

A therapy dog has to have a relatively high maturity level to be able to socialize, especially with clients who have specific emotional needs. A young puppy tends to be a little frisky and might scare those who have isolation or dependency issues, while a dog that is too senior might have dependency or isolation issues of his own.

Ideally, a therapy dog should be older than a year, and can devote a fulfilling life of service for the next eight to nine years.

Your dog must have a calm disposition.

Some dogs tend to be aggressive or domineering, while others love a good jump or leap. If your dog is too excitable, he may not be a good candidate as a therapy dog, which needs to be quieter in front of its clients. Those with isolation issues will tend to shy away from any form of forceful behavior, likewise those who have not been exposed to dogs before.

A therapy dog must be a sociable dog!

While it needs to be calm, a good therapy dog also needs to be able to socialize with others. If your dog is a little too passive-submissive, it might not be able to interact with those already facing social issues.

If your dog shies away from others, do rethink his candidature as a therapy dog.

Therapy dogs must ignore loud noises.

With a hearing ability of up to 60 000 hertz, dogs hear much better than we do. Small wonder that they are a little sensitive to noises and some may bark uncontrollably when they hear especially loud ones. Some, too, are sensitive to sudden movements, which may well happen as they are interacting with others.

If your dog is a little too fearful of noise, being a therapy dog might not be suitable for him.

Therapy dogs perform a very important emotional function, helping those in need feel that much better. If your dog meets all the criteria above, be volunteers! For the dogs who cannot qualify as therapy dogs, do not lose heart, for being man’s best friend is already enriching the lives of others.


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    • midget38 profile imageAUTHOR

      Michelle Liew 

      8 years ago from Singapore

      I have long admired these pets, Peggy, because they do so much quietly, without expecting anything for their efforts in return. I would have volunteered mine, but she's a bit too active to be one! Thanks for dropping in!

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 

      8 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Hi Michelle,

      We have a friend who takes her therapy dog...a standard poodle...into assisted living places. These dogs can do wonders as you so nicely wrote about in this hub. They have to undergo special training which is a labor of love on the part of the pet owner because of the time that they devote to this. It must be so rewarding to see the smiles and interaction of their pet dogs and the appreciative people! Up votes and tweeted.

    • midget38 profile imageAUTHOR

      Michelle Liew 

      8 years ago from Singapore

      Hi Martie! Yes, these dogs are amazing indeed! Really man's best friend, who can really relate to humans. Really appreciate you stopping by, and the vote!!

    • MartieCoetser profile image

      Martie Coetser 

      8 years ago from South Africa

      Very interesting hub about therapy dogs and their ability to improve human emotions and well-being.

      Voted up, well-written and awesome!

    • midget38 profile imageAUTHOR

      Michelle Liew 

      8 years ago from Singapore

      Thanks,Josh. You could turn them into therapy dogs if they have the temperament!

      Say hi to them again for me.

    • josh3418 profile image

      Joshua Zerbini 

      8 years ago from Pennsylvania


      Very informative hub! I am with Bill, since my family owns four of them :) LOL Awesome information and presented clearly! :)

    • midget38 profile imageAUTHOR

      Michelle Liew 

      8 years ago from Singapore

      TT, I'm sure he'll benefit from It! Get a calm one though!

    • TToombs08 profile image

      Terrye Toombs 

      8 years ago from Somewhere between Heaven and Hell without a road map.

      Michelle, wonderful! We have been wanting to get Collin a therapy dog, but haven't settled down long enough to get one. Excellent information, thank you for writing this. Most awesome!

    • midget38 profile imageAUTHOR

      Michelle Liew 

      8 years ago from Singapore

      Thanks, Bill! The world needs more dog lovers like you out there!

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 

      8 years ago from Olympia, WA

      The best form of therapy in the world....a faithful dog! Great hub and very informative. Since I'm a dog kind of guy I really enjoyed this hub.

    • midget38 profile imageAUTHOR

      Michelle Liew 

      8 years ago from Singapore

      Thanks for stopping in Faith Reaper, and the amazing contribution! These dogs indeed go the extra mile and have amazing talents!

    • Faith Reaper profile image

      Faith Reaper 

      8 years ago from southern USA

      Interesting and informative hub. I've seen them being used now for those coming back from the war to help veterans. Good hub, well done. In His Love, Faith Reaper

    • midget38 profile imageAUTHOR

      Michelle Liew 

      8 years ago from Singapore


      Thanks for stopping by! Yes, these furry fellows work beautifully with kids, especially those with autism issues. It helps them reach out to others. Just seeing the dog helps increase the sense of touch and thus motivation to speak!

    • midget38 profile imageAUTHOR

      Michelle Liew 

      8 years ago from Singapore

      Hi Sinea Pies, wow, it sounds like Blondie was the light of many lives! Labs are gentle giants, with such sweet natures.Blondie is such a blessing!

    • midget38 profile imageAUTHOR

      Michelle Liew 

      8 years ago from Singapore


      Thanks for stopping by! These furry friends certainly build bridges for us. The ones I saw were so wonderful...they patiently waited to be dressed up, and reached out to the kids wonderfully. They work wonders! And coincidentally, I've had a pair named Romeo and Juliet too!

    • Jools99 profile image

      Jools Hogg 

      8 years ago from North-East UK

      Michelle, very interesting hub. I have seen a programme in the UK about using therapy dogs with Special Educational Needs children in schools - it really helps them to settle in and gain confidence in an environment where thy might usually find it hard to integrate.

    • Sinea Pies profile image

      Sinea Pies 

      8 years ago from Northeastern United States

      Dogs are so wonderful at bringing comfort to others. I used to bring my yellow lab, Blondie, to the nursing home where my mom stayed. It brightened her life a bit and so many of the residents came alive whenever they saw and petted her. Great hub. Voted up and beautiful--pinned, tweeted and liked, too.

    • Sunshine625 profile image

      Linda Bilyeu 

      8 years ago from Orlando, FL

      Hi Michelle, I was in the pediatric dept. of our local hospital the other day and two "smile" therapy dogs came to visit the children and the kids were thrilled. Romeo and Juliet visit them twice a week and you couldn't help but smile along with the children:)

      Excellent hub!!

    • midget38 profile imageAUTHOR

      Michelle Liew 

      8 years ago from Singapore

      Thanks for the read, Keith. I admire how the animal can connect so much better than we can. These dogs definitely have talent and add so much value to our lives!

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Very insightful, informative, and great showcase of therapy dogs. They are definitely more than a man's best friend. It is so great to see someone so passionate to share how great these dogs are for people. Thank you for sharing!

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Very insightful, informative, and great showcase of therapy dogs. They are definitely more than a man's best friend. It is so great to see someone so passionate to share how great these dogs are for people. Thank you for sharing!

    • midget38 profile imageAUTHOR

      Michelle Liew 

      8 years ago from Singapore

      Showcasing the very good work of Therapy Dogs, more than man's best friend. Is your dog a suitable therapy dog?


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