New Zealand Woman’s Weekly - - LIFESTYLE WEEKLY -

Share the love! Train your dog to bring com­fort and com­pan­ion­ship to oth­ers.

Pets have been shown to re­duce stress, lower blood pres­sure and ease pain. These health ben­e­fits have led to in­creas­ing num­bers of dogs be­ing used to bring com­fort and ther­a­peu­tic help to peo­ple in hospi­tals, nurs­ing homes and schools. Do you think your dog may en­joy spread­ing some love?

Is my dog suit­able?

“Some dogs make beau­ti­ful fam­ily pets, but aren’t very in­ter­ested in mak­ing friends with strangers,” ex­plains ve­teri­nar­ian be­haviourist Dr Gaille Perry. “They may have to go into multi-storey build­ings and there could be lots of peo­ple and loud noises.”

For your dog to make a good ther­apy pet, it must be friendly, even-tem­pered, gen­tle and com­fort­able meet­ing new peo­ple in un­usual en­vi­ron­ments. Be­ing tol­er­ant to be­ing pet­ted, re­spon­sive to ver­bal com­mands and able to walk nicely on a leash are also im­por­tant. The best way to iden­tify any po­ten­tial weak­nesses is to have your dog as­sessed to see if it’s suit­able.

What’s in­volved?

An­i­mal ther­apy com­pan­ions pro­vide com­fort through phys­i­cal con­tact. This could in­clude spend­ing time with el­derly peo­ple in a nurs­ing home or vis­it­ing kids in hos­pi­tal. No two days are the same.

“It’s an op­por­tu­nity to in­ter­act with an­other liv­ing thing and is par­tic­u­larly good for peo­ple who’ve had dogs all their lives,” ex­plains Dr Perry. “The ben­e­fits in­clude in­creased phys­i­cal move­ment – when stroking the dog – as well as im­proved cog­ni­tive func­tions.”

And it’s not only the pa­tients who ben­e­fit – the dogs love it too. “They en­joy go­ing out for rides in the car, meet­ing peo­ple and hav­ing a pat – it’s stress re­lief for ev­ery­one. If they don’t en­joy it then we don’t want them to do it,” she says. The only re­quire­ment is that own­ers com­mit to reg­u­lar vis­its – ei­ther weekly or fort­nightly.

Get­ting started

If you think your dog would make a suit­able ther­apy pet, the next step is get­ting cer­ti­fied. Con­tact a reg­is­tered or­gan­i­sa­tion – such as Ca­nine Friends (ca­nine­ or Out­reach Ther­apy Pets by St John (

– to or­gan­ise your dog’s as­sess­ment. Their web­sites have ad­vice and in­for­ma­tion on how to get your dog trained and as­sessed, list the or­gan­i­sa­tions that pro­vide the ser­vice and ex­plain what skills will be tested.

In most cases, be­fore be­ing able to at­tend a work­shop, you’ll also need to pro­vide a com­pleted health screen­ing form, vac­ci­na­tion cer­tifi­cate and a pro­file of your dog’s tem­per­a­ment and ap­ti­tude. “It’s rec­om­mended that the owner par­tic­i­pate in the dog train­ing class with their pet too, but that’s not es­sen­tial,” tells Dr Perry.

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