Therapy pets are like comfort food to the soul, to have another living being full of warmth and love frolicking at your side and jumping in delight to be a part of your day is one of the most comforting stress reducers.
While witnessing care-free demonstrations of affection by a ball of cute, cuddly fur and eyes bright with excitement and anticipation, we tend to refocus our attentions.
These four legged packages of happy-go-lucky enthusiasts are for the most part, irresistible. They can bring back feelings of optimism, compassion and nurturing tendencies that make us feel more lighthearted, relaxed, and positive.
There is now a medically-approved class of "therapy pets," mostly dogs, who are brought to visit confined humans.
Even pet owners residing in a long-term care facility, such as a hospice or nursing home, experience health benefits from pets.
Pets for nursing homes are chosen based on the size of the pet, the amount of care that the breed needs, and the population and size of the care institution. Appropriate pets go through a screening process and, if it is a dog, additional training programs to become a therapy dog.
Different pets require varying amounts of attention and care; for example, cats have lower maintenance requirements than dogs. Cats have more independent characteristics and are less trainable hence dogs make the most logical therapy pets although, cats have also been used.
Over the years other health care professionals have noticed the therapeutic effect of animal companionship, such as relieving stress, lowering blood pressure, and raising spirits, and the demand for therapy dogs continues to grow. In recent years, therapy dogs have been enlisted to help children overcome speech and emotional disorders.
Therapy dogs come in all sizes and breeds. The most important aspect of a therapy dog is temperament. A good therapy dog must be friendly, patient, confident, at ease in all situations, and gentle. Therapy dogs must enjoy human contact and be content to be petted and handled, sometimes clumsily.
A therapy dog's primary job is to allow unfamiliar people to make physical contact with him and to enjoy that contact. Children in particular enjoy hugging animals; adults usually enjoy simply petting the dog. The dog might need to be lifted onto, or climb onto, an invalid's lap or bed and sit or lie comfortably there. Many dogs add to the visiting experience by performing small tricks for their audiences or by playing carefully structured games.
Most require that a dog pass the equivalent of the American Kennel Club's Canine Good Citizen test, and then add further requirements specific to the environments in which the dogs will be working. Typical tests might ensure that a dog can handle sudden loud or strange noises, can walk on assorted unfamiliar surfaces comfortably, are not frightened by people with canes, wheelchairs, or unusual styles of walking or moving, get along well with children and with the elderly, and so on. Animal-assisted therapy is designed to improve the physical, social, and emotional needs among others.
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Therapy pets - all pets - reduce stress