The services and guiding that a therapy dog can give to kids with special needs
We think of dogs being pets and companions, but they can also serve a specific purpose through a job. Dogs can do many different jobs! Maybe you can think of a guide dog you’ve seen with someone out in public. These dogs when trained well, act as the ears and eyes for their human. This allows their human to be much more independent and with a guide dog, some people are able to live on their own and work at jobs.
I don’t think it’s common for kids with special needs to have a guide dog at school unless they are blind. Even then, I’m not aware of it being common. However, as a kid ages into high school and then into a work situation or college, a guide dog is much more common to see. When we took my step son to college after Christmas break, we saw a pretty golden retriever guide dog with another student in the dorm’s common area.
Did you know that the owner will probably ask you to not pet the dog while it’s “on duty”? They are a working animal are dedicated to their job, but they can be distracted by attention, so most humans will ask that their dog not be treated as just a pet while working. This is especially the case when the dog is young or early in their training.
So, why would anyone actually need a guide dog?
Well, someone with poor or no hearing can use a guide dog as their ears. A dog has naturally good hearing – better than humans. A guide dog can be trained to alert their human that the phone is ringing, the cooking timer has gone off, or that a baby is crying.
Anther example is of someone confined to a wheelchair with limited mobility. The dog can be trained to turn on and off light switches, pick up items on counters, shelves and the floor, and even open some doors. In this case, a dog could bring the phone to their human or help open the refridgerator door.
At the school where my daughter attends, they have a service dog called Nasa. I watched her one day open the door when her human pulled into the driveway and parked. I was suprised and asked if she does that for just anyone and was told that she only opens the door for her specific human.
Can you imagine how that would help if you can’t lift your arms or if you have to manuver the wheelchair at the same time you are trying to open your house door? Amazing!
Dogs Can Help You Relax
Nasa is also used for relaxing the kids at my daughter’s school. The school has students with special needs and behavioral problems. They get upset, act out and experience stress on a daily basis. Giving them some time to pet Nasa and snuggle with her often helps them calm down.
There is a difference between a therapy dog and a guide dog, although one dog can be both and all dogs can provide therapy and comfort.
Smoky was the first official therapy dog. He was a Yorkshire Terrier and was rescued by William Wynne during World War II. William was in the hospital and Smoky kept him company during his stay. He was also a smash hit with other patients at the hospital too.
It wasn’t until the ’70s that a training program was started in the US to train dogs for visiting hospitals and nursing homes, but doctors around the world agree that therapy dogs have a profound effect on their patients.
Therapy dogs are great for everyone. Someone with mental or emotional stress, like kids with autism can benefit greatly from a strong and patient therapy dog. Those with physical limitations and stress can benefit also.
The best thing is that the dog doesn’t have to be a specific breed. We had a basset hound for 8 years that was very patient with my daughter even during her physical and verbal meltdowns.
Research has shown that therapy dogs can help improve the following conditions:
- Helps to lower blood pressure
- Can raise spirits and improve moods
- Help to trigger memory especially in patients with Alzheimer’s
- Help to decrease stress levels
- Help children improve their speech
- Improves emotional outlook
As a dog lover, I understand why dogs of any kind can help people with these types of problems. They offer love to anyone and anyone. It isn’t that difficult to understand why dogs can reach people with these types of problems. Dogs offer unconditional love to anyone. They don’t care what you look like or what problems you have, they just want to be loved in return.
I’m not sure of the science behind why being with a dog helps, but I’ve seen it for myself. We recently had to have our pet basset hound put to sleep. He’d been very ill for a long time and just wasn’t fixable. Our hearts were broken and I miss very much the physical aspect of touching, and petting him. My daughter misses petting and feeling his long, soft, flat ears.
The next time we get a dog, I’ll be looking into getting a dog with the right kind of temperament that can hopefully be trained for therapy and some guidance for my daughter.
Do you have a therapy dog or work with one? I’d love to hear your story in the comments below!