Dogs are amazing creatures. Not only can they provide companionship and protection, they can settle into a home and become part of the family. For people battling an illness, having a dog doesn’t always align with treatment schedules and recovery. However, there are people out there with specially trained therapy dogs who ensure that the fight against illness doesn’t have to be fought without a furry angel by their side.
Therapy dogs are service animals that bring comfort and relief to people dealing with long- term illness or depression. Research suggests that dogs stimulate a positive emotional response from patients, helping raise their spirits and stabilize their mood. They also provide a welcome distraction from the frustrations of treatment, worry, and depression. The emotional benefits are a plus, but there’s mounting evidence that dogs are helping people on a physical level as well. The website cancercenter.com notes that new studies are showing physical responses in additional to the emotional benefits, including decreased anxiety, lower blood pressure, and the release endorphins for elevated mood.
While the physical responses are promising, the primary goal for therapy dogs is to help raise spirits and reduce stress. These specially trained animals do just that, spreading love and joy to hospitals across the country. Yet their hard work goes beyond hospital rooms.
“Therapy dogs help people in so many settings,” Chris Mangrich, trainer at It’s A Dog’s World K-9 Academy, says. “While their work in hospitals is important, they can also serve people outside of that. I’ve trained dogs who have gone on to work in convalescent homes, senior centers, and even at a counseling office on a college campus.”
So what makes a therapy dog different from any other dog? Mangrich has been training dogs for eleven years and training therapy dogs for six, and notes that therapy dogs are built on temperament. Dogs born with an inherent calmness and even-keeled personality are prime candidates for therapy dog training. Mangrich has screened and trained several therapy dogs over the years, but every so often she’ll suggest therapy training to clients who have a dog that fits the profile.
“If you have a dog that loves people and moves through basic training easily, they may be a good fit for therapy training,” Mangrich says.
For Mangrich, the training process starts with Basic Obedience then moves through the Canine Good Citizen testing, which mimics the first wave of Therapy Dog certification. Mangrich will continue to work with a dog and ensure they are not distracted by noises and can be friendly even in stressful situations. Once the dog is prepared, he goes to test for his Therapy Dog certificate and if he passes, becomes eligible to start working as a service dog.
Mangrich adds, “I love working with these dogs because in the end it’s helping people feel good again, and providing a sense of comfort when they need it most.”
Furry angels are important to people in many different environments, and are yet another example of how dogs can bring comfort and joy into the lives of humans.