Stress Relieving Therapy Dogs
By Nicole Pajer
Patients battling excessive stress are starting to look to canines as their preferred method of therapy. Spending time with dogs has proved to have enormous benefits when it comes to lowering blood pressure, improving psychological well-being, and providing an overall sense of comfort. Therapy dogs are instrumental in helping patients to overcome trauma, grief, loss, depression, abuse, andanxiety. Below are just a few examples of stress relieving therapy dogs in action:
Divine Canines Help Rehabilitate Wounded Soldiers
Divine Canines, a nonprofit that provides free canine assisted therapy services to hospitals, schools, and nursing homes across Central Texas, has been an important rehabilitation tool for wounded and distressed soldiers at Fort Hood’s Warrior Transitional Brigade. On a once a month basis, members of the Divine Canines team visit the brigade to assist wounded warriors in completing stress management classes as a supplement to traditional and alternative therapies, which they regularly receive. According to brigade occupational therapist, Randy Thomas, since being initiated two years ago, the program has been extremely popular. “We noticed that our more aloof soldiers more readily responded to dogs than to therapists,” he explains. Sgt. Monica Hickmott has been working with a dog from Divine Canines since a non-combat related injury from her 2009 deployment from Iraq. Hickmott says that participating in monthly canine therapy has not only calmed her, but has also been extremely beneficial in keeping her stress level down. “Dogs love unconditionally and can be easier to communicate with than people,” she explains.
Therapy Dogs International’s Disaster Stress Relief Team
Therapy Dogs International sent 20 members of their four-legged Disaster Stress Relief Team to help survivors, families of victims, police officers, and firefighters affected by the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City in 1995. The DSR pups provided comfort and relief and were hugged and petted by the distraught Oklahoma City community. After realizing the impact their dogs had on helping those associated with the bombing to overcome the terrorist attack, the organization decided to branch out to further disaster relief efforts. Since then, DSR dogs have also been used to calm those affected by 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, and other disasters such as tornados and fires. Nanette Winter, a psychological therapist from New York who has been a member of TDI since 1993, says getting her dog involved in the program was one of the best things she could have ever done. “I would bring my dog along to work as a therapist and I saw how much comfort he brought to some of the patients by interacting with them. I contacted Therapy Dogs International. It was just meant to be.”
Dogs Brought in to Reduce Stress in College Students
Many colleges across the nation are starting to use therapy dogs to provide students with relief from stress associated with things like cramming for final exams. Dogs on Call, a nonprofit in Baraboo, Wisconsin, recently brought a team of canines onto the University of Wisconsin’s campus to help students relax during finals week. After petting and spending time with the organization’s dogs, students showed signs of lower blood pressure and felt more relaxed. In March, Yale gave students the opportunity to visit the library and reserve a half hour with a Jack Russell/border terrier mix named Monty. Michael Bliss, resident director at Massachusetts’s Tufts University, recently employed the use of therapy dogs as stress relieving tools. The program proved to be exceptionally beneficial during finals week. Michael Bliss was quoted in Boston.com as saying that “every college student has stress around finals. And taking a break out from that with something as easy and simple and loving as petting dogs is really helpful.”
Therapy dogs make wonderful additions to rehabilitation programs at hospitals, schools, nursing homes, and in crisis situations. The majority of the dogs that visit such places are personal pets of handlers who volunteer a portion of their time towards training their dog to be a therapy dog. If you’d like to get your dog involved as a therapy dog, you first need to make sure that it he is relaxed and outgoing with strangers, enjoys being petted, and has completed basic obedience classes. The next step would be to get in touch with a therapy dog organization near you for information on the necessary training programs that your dog will need to complete. Your pup will then have to pass the American Kennel Club’s Canine Good Citizen Test before it can begin therapy dog services.