For many years, working dogs, also known as therapy dogs or service dogs, have played an important role in the lives of countless individuals, helping all types of people from those suffering from PTSD to those who are visually impaired and even those confined to wheelchairs. However, as experts continue to realize the potential that these animals have and just how much they can train the right dogs to provide the right services, even more people are starting to take advantage of working dogs.
Seniors in particular have started to see some great benefits from these professional canine companions. These animals can help seniors with anxiety, help physically impaired seniors go about their daily lives and can even provide companionship and comfort to those living in nursing homes or assisted living facilities. Above all, these therapy dogs are able to help improve the quality of life for many seniors while providing invaluable services.
What Makes a Good Therapy Dog?
Therapy dogs can come in all different shapes and sizes. While some dogs are trained from birth to be therapy dogs, there are more and more programs today that are taking dogs out of shelters across the country and training them to be professional therapy dogs. Typically, these animals have an outstanding temperament, don't shed too much are extremely well socialized and comfortable in different environments and respond well to training.
Depending on what the individual needs, different animal training programs can take varying amounts of time. Ultimately, the dog will have to pass certain qualifications to get a specific license. There are several different types of working dogs that are trained for service today, but in most situations seniors will use one of three different types of working dogs.
Emotional Support Dogs
Any animal lover will tell you that dogs are a great support system to any person who needs a little extra emotional stability. However, emotional support animals (ESAs) are about more than just greeting you at the door, they are professionally trained animals designed to provide therapeutic support to their elderly or disabled owners. These dogs are around mostly for companionship. Sometimes their presence is needed for extreme emotional issues and other times they are around to help with loneliness and depression.
Today, more and more doctors are advising seniors, especially those dealing with other cognitive challenges to have emotional support animals. With medical permission, these animals are allowed to accompany their owners virtually anywhere they need to go, including the cabin or an aircraft or in other animal-free public and housing situations.
These dogs typically do not need as extensive of training as service dogs, but they do need to be fully toilet trained and to not have any bad habits that could disrupt members of the public. These animals need to know how to control their barking and need to be non-aggressive towards other people and animals. These animals do need to be certified by an outside agency in order to be official emotional support dogs.
Service dogs are among some of the best-trained animals in our world today. They are trained to help their owners do things they cannot do on their own because of a disability. This dog may be trained to retrieve seizure medication, sniff out allergens, open doors, navigate for those with impaired vision or anything in between. Typically, these dogs go through a great deal of training in order to be able to perform the physical tasks they need to in order to help their humans.
Again, these dogs are often permitted in places where animals are normally not allowed, as they are a necessity to their owners. In fact, many seniors who have their own service dogs rely so heavily on these animals they would be unable to function without them.
Therapy dogs are working dogs, but they aren't a service dog. They typically do not have anywhere near the amount of training, nor the responsibilities of service dogs or even emotional support dogs. These dogs go through basic obedience training and once they are done, they can get certified through a national therapy dog association.
These national organizations typically cost an annual fee which includes liability insurance and educational materials. Typically, these dogs go with their owners to different facilities in order to visit and provide companionship to those who need them. Therapy dogs need to be healthy, well socialized, toilet trained, well-behaved and up-to-date on all of their vaccines.
Some seniors will have their own therapy dogs, or a therapy dog that lives in their assisted living community, but typically, these dogs are escorted to different places by an owner or volunteer and are just visitors.
Therapy Dogs in Nursing Homes
There are some seniors who will have their own therapy dogs or working dogs, to help them through different physical or emotional issues. There are also many nursing homes and assisted living facilities that will have visiting therapy dogs come to visit their patients. These individuals can provide joy and companionship to seniors and can often help older adults who are no longer able to care for their own pets.
Having to give up a pet can be one of the most devastating things a senior goes through when transitioning to life in assisted living. The presence of a therapy dog can help many seniors overcome this distress and find some peace of mind. In fact, every year more and more nursing homes and senior living communities are signing up to have regular therapy dogs either live within their community or visit their communities on a regular basis.
While many seniors will do their best to try and keep dogs as pets well into their golden years, there are others that ultimately need to rely on the companionship and service of a dog in order to live the safest and most effective life possible. With the right therapy dogs more and more seniors are able to function at a higher level in and outside of their homes and get the extra emotional support they need to be the happiest and healthiest versions of themselves possible.