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Dogs in Hospitals - How They are Used in Patient Therapy

Mar 3, 2008
It is said that a dog is a man's best friend. And today, with the implementation of animal assisted therapy in hospitals, there is no better example for this saying. Therapists, doctors and mental health professionals are making use of dogs to help in the recovery of patients in one way or another.

Usually, the brain injury patients, senior citizens, those who are physically impaired, and patients in hospitals and treatment centers are the ones who benefit the most from animal assisted therapy. With this kind of therapy, both the patient and dog will experience loyalty, love and joy together, and they will develop a bond that is quite extraordinary.

Dogs are used in different settings in different countries

In some countries, dogs are used to help in fine motor control where patients are advised to move their arms and fingers so that they can pet and brush the dogs. This will help patients develop their sense of touch as part of the therapy process. Another form of therapy is the large muscle therapy where patients take the dogs for a walk or an outing in a park or recreational area.

Basically, there is no scientific evidence that support the fact that dog therapy actually works on patients. The only reasoning provided by therapists is that the unconditional love that the dog displays towards patients will help them gain self confidence. It is this self-confidence that helps them recover from whatever health problems they may be suffering from.

There is another logical reason for the success of dog therapy. Caring for the dogs and spending quality time with them will remind patients of their childhood or other positive moments of their life when they were hearty and enjoying life to the maximum. By reminiscing on the good times they had, patients will develop a renewed interest in life, and they will have a new reason to get well and carry on with their lives.

Whatever the reason, or even if there is no particular reason for the use of dogs in therapy, the main point is that dog therapy is effective in treating patients.

The elderly see a friend in a dog

Besides helping in muscle coordination, dogs are also used as companions for many patients. Usually, the elderly and isolated patients are the ones who will find great comfort and consolation in the company of therapy dogs. Having a dog as a companion gives them the opportunity to interact with another living thing, and this will certainly add some meaning to their lives.

Dogs make good companions because they are not judgmental and they are always happy to see the patients. This creates a positive feeling in the patients to help them improve both emotionally and socially. This is not always achieved with the visit of a nurse or a therapist.

Any dog of any age can help patients

There is no specific breed, age or size requirement for therapy dogs. Usually, medium to large sized dogs are used as therapy dogs. However, some small dogs can be excellent therapy dogs as well.

Some hospitals have their own therapy dogs, while others depend on volunteer dog owners who are willing to offer their dogs for therapy purposes. Usually, the dog owners will bring their dogs to the hospitals whenever health care professionals and trained therapists require their assistance.

In order that a dog can be an effective therapy dog, it has to be calm and well behaved, without any history of aggression or disobedience. It should be well socialized and not prone to barking and whining as this will only disturb the patients.

Therapists require that the dogs undergo special obedience training before they start working with patients and clients. In fact, special insurance on therapy dogs are also available as protection against possible accidents.
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