Friday, December 28, 2012

Therapy for the Therapy Dog

Wednesdays were Toby the dog's day. He volunteered at a mental health facility in the patient recreation program. In addition to getting patients outside for walks and a fun game of fetch, Toby's presence on the unit encouraged socialization between the patients, and a lighter energy overall. 

How Toby became a therapy dog is an interesting story.  Interestingly enough, Toby's job as a therapy dog was the result of Maggie the behaviorist who in her assessment of Toby's incorrigible behavior, she noted his intuitive and gentle nature with people, and his desire to attend to people.  We pursued training and testing for Toby, and he became an award winning therapy dog. 

Toby's job as a therapy dog became therapy for him in a sense. Shortly after Toby began volunteering on Wednesdays, his behaviour improved. There were fewer episodes of destructive behaviour at home, less separation anxiety and Toby's confidence improved.

Dr. Rose interviewed me on this very topic on his radio show, you can listen here:

Animal Assisted Therapy (AAT) is not only a program at hospitals, but there are schools, group homes, senior's facilities, libraries, and treatment programs where animals are part of a human's treatment or educational program.  

The transformation in Toby after he started his volunteer work so so profound that I wrote a short story for Chicken Soup for the Soul- what I learned from the dog. The following year I wrote On Toby's Terms.

Have you thought of volunteering with your pet?  Would he or she make a good therapy dog? Or a visitation pet?  Talk to your vet, local trainer, rescue organization or shelter for referrals to your local Animal Assisted Therapy associations.  Animals can have a calming and healing effect on people, can reduce stress, and bring a great deal of joy to a person who needs some unconditional love.  If your pet could be a good fit for this kind of volunteer role:
1) Talk to your vet and local trainer or behaviourist
2) Explore local AAT programs
3) Help your pet be successful in his/her role through proper training, and socializing your pet in new situations
4) Enjoy the opportunity to volunteer with your pet and make such a PAWsitive difference in the lives of others.


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