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What is a Therapy Dog in the UK?

Updated: Jan 30

Therapy dogs are trained to provide comfort, support, and emotional assistance to people of all ages in various settings. Unlike assistance dogs, which are trained to perform specific tasks for individuals with disabilities, therapy dogs are focused on improving people's emotional well-being and overall quality of life.

Here are some key points about therapy dogs:

Purpose: The main purpose of therapy dogs is to offer emotional support and companionship to people of all ages who may be experiencing stress, anxiety, loneliness, or other emotional challenges. Their presence can help reduce feelings of isolation and provide a sense of comfort and joy in a non-judgmental and fun way.

Settings: Therapy dogs can visit a wide range of settings, including hospitals, care homes, schools, colleges, resdiential and rehabilitation centres, libraries, airports, disaster response sites, and private practices. A well mannered dog presence in these environments can have a really positive impact on patients, residents, students, young and old.

Training: Therapy dogs undergo training to ensure they have good manners, are well-behaved, and can remain calm in various situations. They need to be comfortable around different people, including children, elderly individuals, and those with disabilities. Training focuses on socialization, obedience, and manners, but it's generally less task-specific and intensive than the training for assistance dogs. The recommended level of training for a Therapy Dog in the UK is a Silver level.

Certification and Registration: Even though unregulated in the UK still, therapy dogs are certified or registered through therapy dog organizations, whether pet therapy charities or training centres, such as Therapy Dog Training UK. These organizations assess the dogs' temperament, behaviour, and suitability for therapy work. Certification may involve passing evaluations related to obedience, behaviour around strangers, and handling various environments. Therapy Dog Training UK take this one step further by ensuring that any therapy dog undergoing training and assessment is happy and confident taking on a working role in a setting that can be stressful and challenging to a dog in a world away from home!

Interactions: Interactions with therapy dogs are often facilitated by trained volunteer guardians who accompany the dogs who are always their own pet and companion animal. Handlers ensure that interactions are safe and positive for both the dog and the individuals they're visiting. Therapy dogs are typically encouraged to interact with people in a gentle and non-intrusive manner.

Benefits: Research has shown that interactions with therapy dogs can have a range of benefits, including reducing stress and anxiety, lowering blood pressure, improving mood, enhancing social interactions, engaging with learning and even reducing pain perception in some cases.

Types of Therapy Dogs: There are several types of therapy dogs, including:

Visiting Therapy Dogs: These dogs visit places like hospitals, nursing homes, and schools to provide comfort and companionship.

Animal-Assisted Therapy Dogs: These dogs work alongside well-being and healthcare professionals to assist in therapeutic interventions, such as physical therapy, talking or speech therapies.

Crisis Response Dogs: These dogs provide comfort and support in disaster and crisis situations, helping individuals and first responders cope with stress and trauma.

Access Rights: Unlike assistance or medical assistance dogs, therapy dogs do not have the same legal rights of access to public places. They are only allowed in facilities or locations where they have been formally invited or where specific therapy dog programs are in place.

Overall, therapy dogs play a crucial role in promoting emotional well-being and providing comfort to people of all ages in various situations, contributing to a positive and supportive environment where truly magical moments can happen.

If you are considering your own pet dog for helping others via visiting therapy work, Therapy Dog Training UK can provide everything you need to certify, assess, and train your dog for a role in an education or healthcare setting or where animal assisted therapy may be helpful for professionals in their private practice. The Therapy Dog Training workshops 1&2 provide essential resources for dog guardians to help them deliver a safe, compliant service as well as 48 bite size video- based tutorials to help bring a companion animal to the recommended silver level working at your own pace and in your own time. Courses are CPD accredited.

Carol Lincoln TDT UK

© TDT Canine Services UK LTD 2023

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