skylar-assist-1Animal-Assisted Therapy has grown rapidly in the last 20 years, and while there is a large range of animals that can be used in this service, dogs are the most frequently used therapy animals. Volunteer organizations are in part responsible for the increase of therapy dog popularity and visibility. These organizations train volunteers and their dogs to provide services across a wide spectrum of clients needs. Most groups that train and certify or register therapy dogs are non-profit organizations. They are also the connection between the handler and her dog, and the populations that these groups serve. Canine Assisted Therapy is being integrated into treatment services for wounded warriors suffering from PTSD and traumatic brain injury. Therapists and counselors who see clients in their offices are including therapy dogs into their practice. Pet Partners (formerly the Delta Society) is a nationally known therapy dog training program. It was the first comprehensive, standardized training in animal-assisted activities and therapy for volunteers and health care professionals. Now there are local volunteer organizations in cities around the country.

A therapy dog is a bridge between the client and the handler/therapist. Dogs provide unconditional positive regard, unconditional love and acceptance of the client. They are a calming and soothing presence, and facilitate emotional expression. A child with autism may react differently with a dog, and be much more willing to engage. A patient in the hospital may respond to a dog’s presence by opening his eyes, start to smile, and for just a minute forget his pain. A child who has difficulty reading or is dyslexic will practice reading to a dog that will listen, and the child will be more comfortable and not feel judged. There are countless examples of the types of service these dogs perform. The results are miracles, small or big, seen or unseen. The possibilities are endless.

More research is being done to validate the obvious effects therapy dogs have on the populations that they serve. Research will serve as more encouragement to providers to include this treatment modality in the services that are offered.