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All About Therapy Dogs

Apr 8, 2008
When people think of therapy dogs, they usually think of the familiar Golden Retriever or Black Labrador or the occasional mixed breed from the shelter. However, there are many dogs, of all breeds, that can be trained as therapy or assistant dogs for the disabled, and not just those confined to wheel chairs or blind persons.

Today's therapy dogs include dogs for those people with epilepsy and depression, those who can not walk very well and all kinds of disabilities not standard to what once was considered the 'norm' for consideration for an assistance dog. Some dogs have a natural sense as to when their 'person' is going to have an epileptic episode and will warn them so they can prepare for it. Others will alert their owners of when they sense a panic attack coming on well before the person realizes it's about to happen. These dogs are easily trained because they already have that sense about them and can be from the local shelter or even you family pet which you've had for years and already have a report with them.

Assistance dogs do not have to be large dogs, even for those people who are living in a wheelchair. Medium to smaller size dogs can open and close closets, doors, drawers and other things as well as larger sized dogs; only they need a little more training than their larger counter parts.

The reason most therapy dogs happen to be Golden Retrievers and Black Labs are that they are willing to please their owners and to work hard for them. They are in the working and or sporting classification of dogs and are always willing to please. They are capable and sturdy and can carry many items strapped to their backs in case their owners need something.

Smaller breeds can be just as rugged and often more willing to please, however carrying less items means the person in the wheelchair will have to use a backpack or other carrying pack for most of their items. Poodles, both the standard and the medium sized dogs are trainable and willing to help their owners. Other breeds that make good therapy dogs are Pointers, Shepherds and mixed breeds of any of the above. Miniature or toy dogs make great companion dogs or depression assistant dogs, but can not do the 'heavy lifting' required for the wheel chair dogs.

One of the largest debates surrounding service dogs is not about the breeds or what they can and can not do, but rather it's a petting issue. Some people say that the dog is working and you should not allow people to distract them from their job by allowing people, strangers to come up and pet the dog. They have signs that the dog will wear that say I'm a good dog, but please do not bother me for I am working right now, or something to that affect.

Other people don't mind if strangers walk up to them and ask to pet their service dog, especially children. They feel the dog deserves a normal life and that includes being able to interact with other people, even if they are supposed to be concentrating on the task at hand, helping their person.
About the Author
Tristan Andrews is a freelance author who writes articles about Dogs and Dog News.
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