A Therapy animal can work in a Therapy practice with its handler or in a home situation when a parent or attendant is ultimately responsible. A Therapy animal can help in the daily life of a child or adult. They can be trained to provide companionship and to improve social contact, to provide a certain structure and to break the circle of loneliness.
Parrots, chickens, dogs, cats, horses, ponies, donkeys and many other species can be trained to provide this service.
Active and Passive Therapy animals.
An active therapy animal works with its handler and engages in an external therapeutic process with a client.
A passive therapy animal remains in a family or individual. The animal is trained to carry out at least three specified objectives.
Teaching, coaching, interventions, therapy, activities … with the help of animals.
There are other subdivisions according to specified requirements, for example there are canine assisted reading programmes.
A Therapy animal is taught to seek human contact and to allow petting and stroking.
It won’t react to unexpected, clumsy or dominant interaction. The animal understands voice and hand cues and is trained with positive, animal friendly methods. It will have a natural affinity with humans and enjoys being stroked.
A Therapy animal is trained to work both in a group and individually. It will stimulate the motivation to learn, helps to overcome anxiety and stimulates the imagination.
People who have contact with Therapy animals feel more at ease, animals are not judgemental. People feel drawn to the animals and this encourages them to come out of their shell. When people are relaxed and feeling safe they become more balanced and calm. Contacts in everyday life become easier and this encourages a feeling of self-worth. Because the animal needs to be looked after people learn to be more caring.
Visits to a local petting farm or zoo where people can interact with animals can be therapeutic.
What risks can be involved in the use of a Therapy animal?
As Therapy animals must pass an assessment based on strict criteria, have been trained and undergo regular health checks there are few if any risks. You can see a summary of risk analysis here.
Why use a Therapy animal?
Because an animal:
- Can have a positive effect on our health ( reduces stress, lowers the heart rate, improves resistance, lowers blood pressure and more)
- Makes you smile
- Encourages physical movement and play
- Is not judgemental
- Allows you to be yourself
- Encourages social contact
- Keeps you company if you are alone
- Stroking an animal helps you to relax and to feel calm
- Allows you to look outside of yourself
- Encourages a feeling of responsibility
- Can bring a certain structure into your life
- Offers support during difficult and stressful periods
- Gives a feeling of safety and security
The 8 activity levels in which therapy dogs can be used to offer support – Elizabeth Best Martin (1977):
- Sensory integration due to the smell, sound etc. … of the dog
- Sensory stimulation
- Empowerment and giving confidence
- Re-motivate and improvement of memory
- Increasing social contacts again (structure)
- Cognitive stimulation (wanting to learn) and training
- Short-term rehabilitation (courage, forgetting pain, etc.)
- Skills and integration into society (outside of the institution)
A therapy animal can indeed make a difference as has been demonstrated in various studies:
- Pet owners are less afraid that they will fall victim to a criminal act on the street or at home (Serpell 1990)
- Pet owners have fewer minor health problems (Friedmann 1990, Serpell 1990)
- Pet owners have a better psychological constitution (Serpell 1990)
- Pets reduce the feeling of being alone and isolated (Kidd 1994)
- People with AIDS who own a pet as less prone to feelings of depression and are better able to cope with their situation (Siegel 1999, Carmack 1991)
- Dog owners are generally more active which has a positive effect on their health (Serpell 1990)
- People with high blood pressure showed reduced blood pressure results on days when they were allowed to take their dog to work (K. Allen 2001)
- Pet owners have lower triglyceride and cholesterol levels than people without pets (Anderson 1992)
- A pet reduces the risk of a fatal heart attack by 3%: this saves 30,000 lives each year in the US alone (Friedman 1980)
- A child becomes more self-assured when they have a pet (Bergensen 1989)
- 70% of families in a group study reported an increase in family happiness and pleasure after they had purchased an animal (Cain 1985)
- The presence of a dog during a child’s health examination reduces the child’s feeling of stress (Nadengast 1997, Baun 1998)
- Children with pets are more active, participating in sports, hobbies, clubs and even helping with household chores (Meison 1990)
- The friendship of an animal, especially a dog, can help children to cope with servere illness or the death of a parent (Raveis 1993)
- When children are in contact with pets during their first years of life, they are less prone to allergies and asthma (Hesselmar 1999)
- Autistic children who have pets or live in a family with pets have better social behaviour patterns and are less self-absorbed / introverted (Redefer 1989)
- Animal support activities and therapy can certainly reduce loneliness in old people’s homes (Banks 2002)
- Drug costs per patient were reduced from around $ 3.80 to just $ 1.18 per day in new healthcare facilities in New York, Missouri and Texas, where animals are fully integrated (Montague 1995)
- Pets in retirement homes are seen to promote more social and verbal interaction between residents compared to other therapies (Fick 1992)
- Elderly people who own a pet are better able to cope with stressful events and are less likely to need a doctor than those who are not pet owners (Raina 1998)
If you want to work with therapy animals; you must follow a training course (therapy animal trainer or therapy animal counsellor). You can follow these courses with us at Toscanzahoeve.
Your own animal must meet strict behavioural and health criteria if you want to work with it as an active therapy animal. A veterinarian can carry out the health checks. Currently the only recognized test for therapy animals is the MAG test. This can only be carried out by a recognized behavioural assessor. The social test at a dog school is not sufficient. We can help you with your personal dossier if you become a member of our association.