Typically, the definition of a caregiver conjures images of family members, friends, or paid professionals – not dogs. Over the past forty years, however, therapy dogs have proven to play a significant role in helping sick or injured people in all types of settings, verifying their status as a caregiver in the nontraditional sense of the term.
There are three types of therapy dogs: therapeutic visitation dogs, which are to visit hospitals, nursing homes, rehabilitation facilities, and schools with their owner; animal assisted therapy dogs that help sick or injured patients, aiding in recovery; and facility therapy dogs, which typically live in nursing homes and are trained to help mentally ill or elderly individuals. Whatever the setting or the situation, all therapy dogs must be trained, even-tempered, and well socialized to do their job, and there are many certification options, including programs by the American Kennel Club and Humane Society.
Aside from providing obvious psychological benefits to people, therapy dogs are proven to help patients in a many physical ways as well. Dogs can lower blood pressure and heart rate, reducing anxiety, as well as levels of epinephrine and norepinephrine in the brain. These neurotransmitters are responsible for stimulating the nervous system, and it’s important for people to have the right levels to counter depression or anxiety.
Therapy dogs also raise endorphin levels, which help manage pain and stress, and boost oxytocin, improving happiness, empathy and overall quality of life. Whether they’re cheering up elderly patients in nursing homes, helping calm stressed college students during exams, or assisting physical therapists in patient recovery, therapy dogs are excellent examples of caregivers. Their gentle disposition and irresistible charm are perfect for many patients, plus the love they share knows no bounds!