Therapy Dogs: The Best For Mental Illness !

Reported by a print newspaper, A 9 years old boy Vishal Roshan , a severely autistic child spoke for the first time at the age of 9. This  miracle happened because of  therapy dog treatment!  Parents of the young boy introduced him to therapy dog Dachshund, and within few weeks of creating a bond with the dog, the 9- year old spoke his first words,“Sachin, I had upma for breakfast. What did you eat?” The therapy dog treatment delivered astonishing results. Vishal today goes to a regular school and speaks like any other normal kid.

“There is no psychiatrist in the world like a puppy licking your face.” This is a famous Ben William quote. Many studies and researches have established that whether you are a dog lover or not, the act of hugging a dog or stroking the pet  will do wonders for you. It will make you feel better at once, as the act releases the hormone associated with bonding and affection- oxytocin in dog and human both.

What are Therapy dogs?
Therapy dogs are trained to improve the mental health by providing the emotional support to the sufferer. The dogs are trained to be friendly, patient, tender, merciful. Training includes accepting hugs from strangers. Therapy dogs are popular across the world for comforting patients in stressful situations, helping severe autistic children, and helping patients at old-age homes suffering from depression.

Shirin Merchant, a canine behaviourist, says “Dogs have been man’s favourite domesticated animal throughout history because of the unique way in which they bond with human beings. They melt us with their soft eyes, which is a way of reaching our hearts.’’

How are therapy dogs different from service dogs
Do not confuse the term therapy dogs with service dogs. Both are trained for different purposes. Service dogs are trained to perform specific actions and tasks on behalf of their owners. Therapy dogs, on the other hand, are trained to support their owner’s mental health by giving them love, attention and comfort. Their unconditional love has therapeutic effect on the patients. Service dogs are primarily used for helping owners overcome their disabilities.

How therapy dogs are helpful in treating mental illness
As per experts, sometimes mental illnesses results because of physical injuries, and it becomes easy to recover from injuries and bad physical health if patients spend quality time with therapy dogs. The patients’ recovery is faster in company of therapy dogs as the bond between humans and dogs releases the feel-good hormones – oxytocin and dopamine- and decreases stress generating hormone, cortisol.

Patients  of  mental health challenges and psychiatric disorders-  bipolar disorder, autism, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, Alzheimer’s-  are known to respond well to therapy dogs.

Suitable therapy dogs breeds
Larger breeds: Golden Retrievers, St.Bernard, Labradors
Smaller breeds: Poodles,Pomeranians

The dog’s good behaviour may partially be dependent on  breed, but it largely depends on how the dog is brought up, and how the temperament of the dog develops. Before the dogs are accepted as therapy dogs, their reactions are observed for number of actions- loud sounds, suddenly being grabbed,to wheelchairs, etc.

How to get a therapy dog?
Do a web search for therapy dogs and find organisations that are training therapy dogs. Choose one that is near your residence.

Therapy Dog Facts
Eight-year-old Jiyon Ganguly, patient of autism was allowed to board his flight with his therapy dog Simba, a Labrador. He became the first in-flight passenger in India with his comfort dog.

The US government started combat stress clinics in Afghanistan and Iraq in 2007, and deployed therapy dogs at the camp to give emotional support to the soldiers. Petting the dogs helped the soldiers in treating low blood pressure problems, curing stress and gave comfort to injured soldiers as well.

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