Therapy Dogs

Have you ever seen man’s best friend walking around the hospital? These are therapy dogs! They are mainly introduced into hospitals, retirement homes, nursing homes, schools, hospices, disaster areas, and to people with learning difficulties in order to provide affection and comfort.

The first use of a therapy dog was during World War II when Corporal William Wynne found an abandoned female Yorkshire Terrier and named her smoky. While Wynne was hospitalized for a jungle disaese, his friends brought Smoky to the hospital in order to cheer up the soldiers there. Dr. Charles Mayo allowed Smoky to go on ward rounds and sleep with Wynne. Smoky remained on “active duty” for the next 12 years, during and after World War II.

The first systematic use of therapy dogs was documented in 1976. Elaine Smith noticed how well patients responded to Golden Retrievers and started a program for dogs to visit various institutions. Healthcare professionals began noticing various therapeutic effects of animals such as: relieving stress, lowering blood pressure, and raising moods. The demand for therapy dogs has increased significantly in recent years.

Research has shown that interactions with dogs can temporarily affect the release of various neurotransmitters in the brain including: increasing oxytocin and dopamine while decreasing cortisol levels.

Therapy dogs are not only used in hospitals and health related institutions. Therapy dogs are also being used in colleges and universities to help students de-stress during finals week. Dogs bring smiles and laughter to students as they stop to pet them during these stressful times. Do you remember therapy dogs being in use when you were attending college? Probably not. Their use has become a much more common trend today than ever before and is only set to increase in the coming years.

These therapy dogs are also being brought into use at airports in order to lower stress there as well. LAX has recently added therapy dogs in April of 2013. They have about 30 teams of volunteers and dogs who are assigned to make visits to various terminals. The dogs wear red vests that say “Pet me” which distinguish them from bomb sniffing dogs.

Do you have a dog that and are interested in making him/her a therapy dog? There is are various organizations around the world that can help your dog get certified. One of them is known as Therapy Dogs International which creates testing standards for dogs in order to qualify.

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