As someone who has been practicing pet therapy for a number of years now, I get this question a lot when I introduce Boomer, our family golden retriever, to them – “What is pet therapy?”   If you Google “Dog Pet Therapy”, you’ll probably find something like this:  Dog pet therapy, also known as animal-assisted therapy, is a therapeutic intervention that involves interactions between individuals and specially trained dogs to improve physical, emotional, and social well-being. This form of therapy recognizes the unique bond between humans and dogs and leverages it to achieve various therapeutic goals.  A classic textbook definition.  I typically use something like this: “He’s here to bring a little stress relief and joy to your day, and yes, you can pet him!”.

The primary objective of dog pet therapy is to bring a little bit of joy, distraction and relief to people and enhance the overall quality of life for individuals facing physical or emotional challenges. Dogs used in therapy are carefully selected and trained to be calm, gentle, and responsive to human emotions. These canine companions offer a non-judgmental and unconditional source of support, creating a comforting and safe environment for individuals undergoing therapy.

One of the key benefits of dog pet therapy is its positive impact on mental health. Interactions with therapy dogs have been shown to reduce stress, anxiety, and depression. The presence of a friendly and affectionate dog can elevate mood and create a sense of emotional well-being. This is particularly valuable for individuals dealing with high stress jobs, students involved in testing, individuals dealing with medical conditions, anxiety disorders, or depression.

Dog pet therapy is widely utilized in healthcare settings to assist in the recovery process – and this is where a great deal of my time has been spent. For patients in hospitals or rehabilitation centers, interactions with therapy dogs can contribute to faster healing, reduced pain perception, and improved overall physical functioning.

Beyond individual therapy sessions, dog pet therapy is also used in community settings, such as schools, nursing homes, and disaster response situations. Dogs can provide comfort and companionship to people of all ages, fostering social interaction and communication skills.

The act of petting a dog has been associated with lower blood pressure and increased levels of oxytocin, a hormone that promotes bonding and reduces stress.  Before I began in pet therapy, I didn’t buy into this theory.  How could dogs really help in these stressful situations?  Now, after several years, I have seen time and time again where dogs help people of all ages deal with a wide range of difficult situations.

In this series, I plan to take you deeper into the pet therapy world.  We’ll explore the types of dogs that are best fit for this type of career, how to get started, how to pass your certification test and once you are certified, how to start.

I have done a lot of volunteering in my life.   I’ve built houses, worked at shelters, packed food for the needy, volunteered at animal shelters, and given plenty of blood! But in all my time, nothing compares to fun and joy that dog pet therapy can bring to people.  It is by far the best volunteer commitment I have ever made.