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Pet Therapy: How You And Your Pooch Can Get Involved

Pets are a welcome addition to many rest homes and private hospitals, with Aged Care Association chief executive Simon Wallace citing: “They add something special (emotional and physical wellbeing/support) to enrich residents' lives.”

Some facilities allow residents to keep pets in their rooms, some provide pet therapy and robotic therapy animals, and others keep dog treats on-site to welcome visiting dogs owned by the family and friends of residents.

If you have a furry friend that could provide some love to a resident or two, you might be surprised by how many facilities will welcome you with open arms.

After all, pet visits come with a whole range of benefits.


The benefits of pet visits

Pets make (most) people happy. Pet visits aren’t for everyone, but for those who love animals they can bring an immense amount of joy when owning a pet isn’t possible.

Research consistently shows that pets can help people live happier, healthier lives. Contact with pets on a regular basis has been shown to improve cognitive functioning, balance emotional concerns, and increase feelings of enthusiasm and interest.

Take your dog for a visit and you can help:

  • Boost resident activity levels
  • Reduce stress and alleviate depression
  • Instill a sense of purpose
  • Combat loneliness
  • Reduce feelings of hopelessness
  • Provide a reason to stay independent for longer


Getting pet-visit ready

If you’re going to take your dog to visit the residents of your local nursing home, Pup Junkies explains that he or she must be well-behaved. “Your dog should have a laid-back demeanor, not frighten easily, and be very people-friendly. Do not consider taking your dog if it has any history of nipping or biting.”

The main role of taking your dog for therapy reasons is to provide support, affection, and comfort to those who come into contact with your furry friend. Safety of both the dog and resident is paramount, therefore your dog shouldn’t jump at people, startle by new sounds, smells, and environments, or ignore basic commands such as ‘sit’, ‘stay’, ‘come’, and ‘lay down’. Basic obedience is a must, as is a want to be social. It’s not fair to give your dog a job it doesn’t want.


Training your dog for pet therapy

‘Pet Therapy’ broadly describes regular contact with pets, and it’s a growing field in nursing homes, hospitals, and special schools. Therapy dogs lend comfort and affection to people in a facility setting or to certain individuals who require visitation to deal with a physical or emotional problem.

Therapy dogs are not service dogs but they can help lower blood pressure and heart rate, reduce anxiety, and increase levels of endorphins and oxytocin. Not a one-way street, studies have shown that therapy dogs benefit also, with the rate of endorphins and oxytocin being higher in therapy dogs than in the average family pet.

Training a therapy dog is not hard work when you have a naturally calm and happy dog but it does require some specialized attention. You’ll need several environments to get your dog used to noise and people, a few treats, and a little touch of patience.


In the nursing home

When you’re ready to start visiting, identify a rest home, hospital, or hospice that matches the time commitment you are able to make. Ensure your dog is well-groomed, has been toileted, and if you’ve arranged your visit through a volunteer service such as Canine Friends Pet Therapy, that he/she is wearing appropriate identification.

The duration of your visit will depend on the size of the facility but typically a good amount of time for your dog is one hour. Monitor your dog’s wellbeing while you’re there as you may notice that your dog becomes tired with all the extra attention.

Your visit could be as simple as spending some time in a communal lounge room or in one or two resident rooms. Alternatively, you could look to integrate your dog into the day’s activity program with activities such as throw and fetch, tug of war with a soft toy, bathing, or grooming. Not only will your dog get some exercise, but the residents also will too.


Why now?

We hardly need a scientific study to attest to the fact that uncertain times can create added stress. These strange pandemic times have put many people on edge, but especially those living within aged care facilities. If you have the time, pooch and patience, bringing some love into their lives can be an excellent way to destress in times of uncertainty.

Older people, like anyone, want to have a contributing role in society. Often on the receiving end of help, pet therapy is a way for them to give back. They can shower your pet with attention, take your dog for a walk, care for your pet and gain a sense of value. So why not get your dog visit-ready today?

This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.

© 2021 jacquicoombe

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