Pet Therapy: What is it, how does it work and what are its benefits?



When we talk about assisted therapy with dogs, what do we mean? Let’s see, what is it and how is it applied?

The term “Pet therapy” was created by the American psychiatrist Boris Levinsonnei in the early 1960s, and literally means “affective therapy with animals“. Dog therapy is a practice in support of other forms of traditional therapies that maximize the positive effects produced by the company of an animal on a person.

How does Dog Therapy work?

“We are talking about therapy with dogs, but the most correct term would be assisted therapy with dogs, which are carried out not only in therapeutic contexts but also in educational or recreational contexts”. These interventions work thanks to the relationship established between a pet and a user (child, elderly, sick, etc.): a complex and delicate harmony that stimulates emotional activation and promotes openness to new experiences, new ways of communicating and new interests. .

The animal does not judge, it does not deny itself, it gives itself totally, it encourages smiles, it helps with socialization, it increases self-esteem and it is not prejudiced. His faithful company slows the heart rate and reduces anxieties and fears. In addition, it favors the full expression of people, which among human beings is generally reduced only to verbal language.

Who benefits the most from Pet Therapy?

In most cases, Pet therapy interventions are activated with children, the elderly, people with disabilities or with psychiatric disorders. Interacting with an animal can mean that a child develops faster learning processes and learns to properly care for other living things.

A beautiful opportunity for growth, because the animal has great emotional value for the child: stroking and cuddling it causes pleasant physical contact, stimulates creativity and the ability to observe.

Pet Therapy: What changes when children grow up?

With preadolescent and adolescent children, the relationship with the animal can become the means to stimulate experiences and reflections on important concepts such as respect, trust, reciprocity: it is generally used, for example, in projects to prevent bullying.

How does dog therapy work for children with disabilities?

Another topic refers to assisted therapy with dogs for children and young people with disabilities who, thanks to their relationship with the animal, can find a new enthusiasm and motivation to face small daily tasks and experiment with easy and spontaneous interaction.

The important thing is that each project is built ad personam (for each person), evaluating the specific needs of each user.

Pet Therapy: How to train a dog?

If we want our puppy to become a dog-assisted therapy operator, the path begins from far away:

  • Genetic study: looking for some temperamental and behavioral traits.
  • Parental Choice: Parents must be free from health problems and genetic defects.
  • Proper management of pregnancy: a stress-free pregnancy produces very positive effects on puppies.
  • Development and genetic imprinting: A stimulating life from the first days and the sudden inhibition of biting or aggressive behavior can facilitate the growth of a dog that is effective in pet therapy.
  • Puppy choice: Using character tests, you can choose the most suitable specimen.
  • Socialization: it is one of the most delicate moments of development in the life of the dog and the problems in the relationship with the human being generally arise here.
  • Education and training: the future handler must allow the dog to be balanced, to be able to respond with specific behavior to specific commands and situations.
  • Gradual experience: the young dog begins by witnessing the interventions, attending the places and associating them with positive feelings.
  • Inclusion in the programs: only the evaluation of the dog and handler pair as a real team, will decide the possibility of being included in a pet therapy program.

Dog Therapy: what breed is preferred?

Selection work on dog breeds, associated with the genetic and attitude characteristics of some types of dogs, has produced excellent results in some cases. Larger dogs are more predisposed to interaction with humans and are used in specific jobs.

Think of the breeds of hunting and recovery dogs, in which the dog has been taught to inhibit the sense of belonging with respect to the prey, favoring the development of skills of collaboration with man and sociability with his companions.

For this reason, it can be identified in retrieval and recovery dogs, the most suitable breed for therapy with dogs. In fact, these dogs are more likely to develop those foundational aptitude skills for delicate work like this.

The characteristics that make him “the perfect dog” are:

  1. The desire to interact with the human being and participate in the daily activities of its owner,
  2. The ability to learn,
  3. The collaborative instinct,
  4. Natural curiosity,
  5. The fun.

In addition to genetics, the dog’s growth process is critical and, of course, the responses the dog will have during the grooming program.

Pet Therapy, some examples:

  1. For those who suffer from serious physical problems:
    German shepherd, labrador and golden retriever.
  2. For those suffering from deafness, specifically, small dogs are preferable: such as the Terriers, the Chihuahua, the Papillon, the Poodle and the Schnauzer.
  3. To those who suffer from illnesses with disabilities or terminals: the German Shepherd first, but also the Scottish Shepherd, the Bobtail and the Briards.
  4. For those who suffer from psychological problems (depression, anxiety, panic attacks or anxiety): the Maltese, the Cavalier King Charles spaniel, the Shih-tzu, the Maltese Bichon, the Jack Russell Terrier, the French Bulldog, the Poodle, the Basset Hound , Boxer, Newfoundland, Labrador and Golden Retriever.

What are the most suitable animals in Pet Therapy?

In the national guidelines, it is recommended to involve only companion pets in interventions, such as dogs, cats, rabbits, donkeys and horses. Each animal must be certified and have health and behavior requirements, attitudinal traits and capacity, all this is correctly evaluated by an expert veterinarian in pet therapy.

The essential requirement is the relationship between the pet and its guide: only this allows the success of a treatment. The handler is the one who trained the dog and will be present at all therapy sessions.

What are the professional figures in Dog Therapy?

The international guideline underlines the importance of a multidisciplinary team: there is usually a professional educator and dog trainer, psychologists, veterinarians and others who are tasked with supervising. It is important that there are at least two operators in each session, in order to guarantee constant and effective control.

Regarding access to the profession, for now there is nothing regulated and anyone can decide to provide therapies with pets in an establishment, putting users and animals at risk. In some countries, unfortunately, there are many associations that improvise courses, but many others have years of experience offering serious and comprehensive training.

There are also first and second level master’s degrees in Animal Assisted Activity and Therapy at different universities, which offer a nationally recognized qualification. Whoever wants to do this job should choose the most serious training course, lasting a minimum of two years and not a few weekends.

Is it good to have a pet at home?

Direct contact with animals offers many stimuli, the child lives a unique experience and experiences fundamental emotions for their development: attention, respect, tolerance and channeling of aggression. In today’s world, children are less connected to the animal world than in the past, and it’s a shame given the emotional richness they convey. But don’t mistake a dog for a babysitter: never leave the child alone with him.

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