Would My Dog Be a Good Therapy Dog?

Therapy dogs provide comfort and support to patients and staff

A therapy dog licks her owner; canine therapy team active at hospital.

Therapy dogs provide comfort and support to patients and staff

A friendly, well-behaved, affectionate dog can make a “paw-sitive” difference in anyone’s life, including hospital patients.

Therapy dogs, as they’re called, are trained to provide comfort and affection to people in need. They’re known for their calm demeanor and love of people.

In hospital settings, therapy dogs provide benefits not only for patients but also for health care providers and staff members as they can help reduce stress and improve mood in the workplace.

At Scripps, therapy dogs can be found at hospitals sitting quietly by a patient’s side or getting petted. Along with their owners, they are part of the canine therapy team and are always welcomed by staff members.

“Therapy dog visits can provide emotional support and make a significant difference in a patient’s day,” says Jovian Lam, MD, an internal medicine physician at Scripps Coastal Medical Center Hillcrest. “Patients may be stressed or in pain or missing their home but feel better after they see a therapy dog walk into their room.”

Temperament is important. Not every dog can be a therapy dog. Your dog must like to do therapy work. They should be able to handle different situations with ease.

“Therapy dogs must be friendly and enjoy human contact. They must have a good foundation in obedience training and love all people,” says Jill Sandman, manager of volunteer services at Scripps.

“At Scripps, like at other medical facilities, therapy dogs must be able to keep their composure around gurneys, wheelchairs, alarms, sirens and much more,” she adds.

Health benefits of therapy dogs

Studies show that animal-assisted therapy has many health benefits. Therapy dogs can help lower blood pressure and reduce anxiety and depression. They can help improve pain and speed up healing, which helps patients go home sooner.

At Scripps, canine therapy teams are part of a larger network of dedicated volunteers. Studies show volunteering is good for your mental and physical health. Therapy dog owners often say their volunteer work is one of the most rewarding things that they do with their dogs.

What it takes to be a therapy dog

Therapy dogs are not service dogs that require special training to help people with disabilities or other health conditions. Therapy dogs stay with their owners during visits and are trained to interact with a variety of people.

The American Kennel Club (AKC) recommends dogs pass the Canine Good Citizen test before enrolling in therapy training school or program. The test covers friendliness, obedience and behavior around people and other dogs. A passing grade helps prepare a dog for therapy training and certification.

Canine therapy at Scripps

At Scripps, therapy dogs must be:

  • At least one year old
  • Recipient of a Canine Good Citizen certificate
  • Current on all vaccinations, negative annual fecal exams
  • Evaluated for behavior at a Scripps hospital by a Scripps canine therapy adviser

Owners or handlers must:

  • Commit to one shift per week, typically two hours
  • Attend a virtual new volunteer orientation
  • Show proof of immunizations

Scripps has openings for canine therapy volunteers at Scripps Memorial La Jolla, Scripps Green, Scripps Mercy San Diego, Scripps Mercy Chula Vista and Scripps Memorial Encinitas. For more information, contact caninetherapy@scrippshealth.org.

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