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Therapy dogs: training, advantages and possible applications

Therapy dogs

Animal-assisted therapy methods, in which human therapists are supported, for example, by a dog, are becoming increasingly important in practice. In many cases, the use of a therapy dog can lead to great treatment results, which might not have been possible without the four-legged helper.

What tasks a therapy dog has, in which areas it can be used and what the training as a therapy helper looks like, you will learn in the following. In addition, we will explain to you why an appropriate diet is important and what you have to pay attention to in this context with your therapy dog.

Where therapy dogs are used

Therapy dogs are now used in many different areas and can, for example, help in the treatment of speech disorders, depression and other psychological and physical ailments. 

Especially in child psychology, therapy dogs can often achieve great progress in treatment. However, adult patients can also benefit from the four-legged therapy aids in many ways.

Therapy dogs can be used in the following areas, among others:

  • ergotherapy
  • physiotherapy
  • psychotherapy
  • curative education
  • speech therapy

What does a therapy dog do?

Of course, a therapy dog is no substitute for a human therapist. Rather, it is a tool that the therapist can use during the treatment and that supports him in various ways in his work with the patient.

The therapy dog accompanies its owner, who works as a therapist, to his sessions and then comes into contact with the patient in different ways. How far this contact goes is always decided by the patient. The work with the therapy dog can accordingly be limited to the pure presence of the four-legged friend or also take place actively in the form of cuddling or common plays.

Depending on the type of cooperation, a distinction is made between active and reactive therapy dogs. An active therapy dog motivates the patient by independently bringing himself into the action and, for example, inviting him to play together. A reactive therapy dog, on the other hand, is limited to reacting to the patient's contact attempts and play requests and to reflecting his or her state of mind.

What makes a good therapy dog

In order to be eligible for work as a therapy dog, the four-legged friend should fulfill certain requirements. In addition to a peaceful nature and a high sociability, it is especially important that the dog is stable and humane and can not be easily disturbed.

The use of therapy dogs has many advantages

In addition, the animal should have a close relationship to its owner and be healthy and free of parasites. In addition to various hunting dogs such as the Golden Retriever and the Magyar Vizsla, German Shepherds in particular are very often trained as therapy dogs in Germany.

However, there are no certain restrictions regarding breed and size. Therefore, both small and large four-legged dogs are eligible for training as therapy dogs, whereby the future area of application should be taken into account when choosing the breed. For example, for the work with old people rather smaller animals are suitable, while therapy dogs for children may be somewhat larger and more robust.

The use of therapy dogs has many advantages

Skeptics often take a critical view of the use of therapy dogs and may doubt that working with a four-legged therapy helper will bring significant benefits for patients. In fact, however, studies show that contact with a therapy dog has a number of advantages.

For example, the presence of the dog can lead to a reduction in blood pressure and the petting of the four-legged friend can stimulate the release of oxytocin and endorphin, which has a positive effect on well-being.

In addition, contact with a therapy dog, for example in psychotherapy, makes it easier for patients to open up and make faster progress in their talk therapy. At the same time, the therapist can draw valuable conclusions from the dog's behaviour, which he can use for further treatment. 

As the therapy dog does not understand what is being talked about, the therapist can openly share his observations with the patient without the four-legged friend adapting his future behaviour.

Working conditions for therapy dogs

For the protection of patient and animal there are quite strict rules in Germany, which must be observed when using therapy dogs. On the one hand the four-legged friends must be healthy and parasite free. In this context a quarterly deworming is mandatory.

On the other hand therapy dogs may work only a limited number of hours. A maximum of three working days with one 45-minute therapy session each are permitted per week. If several therapy dogs work together and individual animals can retreat in between, the permitted working time is increased to two hours.

In addition, therapy dogs may not be kept permanently in the facility in which they work. Altogether it applies to the well-being of the animals as well as for the therapy success to consider the working conditions as well as the kind of the patients with the work time.

Training to become a therapy dog

Training to become a therapy dog

The number of animals, which are purposefully bred as therapy dogs, is increasing in recent years. Usually the basic suitability of the four-legged friends is already examined in the puppy age, so that suitable dogs from a litter can be selected already early.

However, there are no binding regulations regarding the training of therapy dogs in Germany so far. The procedure can therefore differ depending on the provider. The training costs usually range from 1,500 to 2,000 euros and can be deducted from the tax as operating expenses under certain circumstances.

In principle, however, a well-founded training is only possible if the prospective therapy dog and its owner are suitable. It is therefore usual that participation in a corresponding training course first requires the passing of an aptitude test. 

The training takes place in a team

During the training, humans and animals learn together what is important when working as a therapy dog team. For the training of the four-legged friend usually also a completely trained therapy dog is used, from which the apprentice can learn certain behaviors. This form of imparting knowledge is referred to as handing down knowledge.

At the end of the training, the dog and its owner must pass a final examination in which they can show that they have mastered all the necessary skills.

The right diet for therapy dogs

Your therapy dog does an important job, which goes along with a high responsibility. A balanced diet is important for him to be able to do this in the long term and to keep stressful situations without consequences for his health.

To this end, we recommend that you use high-quality dog food from Bellfor and support the appropriate nutrition of your four-legged therapy assistant with suitable nutritional supplements.

We advise you to supplement the daily feeding of your therapy dog with the following products from our range:

Bellfor Fitness Powder is our natural food supplement for all dogs who are exposed to increased stress due to sporting activities or their work. The easily digestible preparation provides your therapy dog with additional amino acids from insect protein and valuable vitamins and minerals from chia seeds and dried bananas.

Bellfor Immune also contains only selected natural ingredients. The food supplement helps to support the immune system of your therapy dog and make him less susceptible to infections despite increased stress.

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