• Tara Ferguson, PhD

My therapy dog journey: What a puppy is teaching me about trust...

by Shannon Roberts, CSAC-R (guest blogger)

Guest blogger, Shannon Roberts CSAC-R, is a recent graduate from Liberty University’s Professional Counseling Master’s program. Shannon is currently in the process of getting her LPCA, pursuing toward full licensure as a professional counselor. She has recently gotten a puppy, in the process of pursuing her dream of having a therapy dog for hospital visits, crisis response, and as a therapeutic intervention in a clinical setting. You can learn more about her at her blog here: weareroberts.wordpress.com


So… we just got this puppy a few weeks ago... I have some pretty big plans and hopes for her to be a working dog as a therapy dog. While no therapy dog certification is needed for her to come to work with me and to use as a therapeutic intervention (as there is plenty of research that supports the benefit of dogs as a therapeutic intervention*) I am pursuing the certification for her to have the right demeanor and to also be able to take her with me into hospitals and also into crisis situations with Therapy Dogs International*.


That being said one of the most basic skills I am working with her on is to trust. She's a lab so labs pretty much automatically love anyone and everyone, which is a great personality type. I want her to keep that. So, in order for her to trust anyone and everyone I have to let anyone and everyone come up and pet her in public! You might think most people would ask...I'd say about 50% do. You might think people would respect your own personal space when petting said puppy...I'd say about 50% do.


Most of what this has shown me is further confirmation in the research I've read and what I've always known about dogs and people...is that when you have a dog with you people are much more receptive to you as a person and open. Before having a puppy in public I'd probably encounter one complete stranger starting up a full conversation with me...about once a week (since moving to the friendlier state of North Carolina). Now multiple strangers, on a daily basis, in public places come up to me, pet my puppy and tell me about their experiences with dogs or about their experience with therapy once I tell them about her aspirations (if we've connected that far).


I've found myself trusting more people. Being more authentic and friendly with complete strangers. Being less defensive about unwarranted advice (like you know that dog is going to be a massive dog, right? Are you sure you're ok with that?) and more engaging in what people are telling me.


In this New Year, I want to be more approachable always, puppy in hand or not. What a blessing this dog is, in already giving me that opportunity and challenge.



for further reading on Therapy Dogs continue reading below:


What is a Therapy Dog?

"Therapy dogs are dogs who go with their owners to volunteer in settings such as schools, hospitals, and nursing homes.

From working with a child who is learning to read to visiting a senior in assisted living, therapy dogs and their owners work together as a team to improve the lives of other people.

Therapy dogs are not service dogs. Service dogs are dogs who are specially trained to perform specific tasks to help a person who has a disability. An example of a service dog is a dog who guides an owner who is blind, or a dog who assists someone who has a physical disability. Service dogs stay with their person and have special access privileges in public places such as on planes, restaurants, etc. Therapy dogs, the dogs who will be earning the AKC Therapy Dog™ title, do not have the same special access as service dogs.

It is unethical to attempt to pass off a therapy dog as a service dog for purposes such as flying on a plane or being admitted to a restaurant."


above excerpt from: https://www.akc.org/products-services/training-programs/akc-therapy-dog-program/


Therapy Dogs used in clinical settings:

"The popularity of therapy dogs, particularly in mental health settings, is built on research and anecdotal reports indicating that the presence of a friendly dog (provided the individual likes dogs), can improve engagement and rapport,4,5 and reduce anxious arousal.6 For example, interaction with a therapy dog may reduce the impact of social exclusion on mental well-being,7 the fear associated with medical procedures such as electroconvulsive therapy8 and anxiety associated with stressful situations, such as clinical interviews for adults with schizophrenia9 or major depression.10

Physiological responses also ensue from interaction with a dog. Between 5 and 24 minutes of positive interaction with a dog may produce significant biochemical changes in humans, including a reduction in stress physiology (e.g. cortisol and blood pressure) and an increase in ‘affiliative’ hormones (including oxytocin).11,12 These biochemical changes may be maintained if a dog remains present during stressful situations, with salivary biomarkers of stress reducing during forensic interviews with children who have experienced sexual abuse,13 or a social stress test with children identified as having insecure attachment.14 It has been hypothesised that this biochemical response is triggered by the release of oxytocin, and has been referred to collectively as the oxytocin hypothesis15; that is, in the presence of a friendly dog, our bodies produce the attachment promoting an anxiolytic hormone oxytocin, which in turn drives down stress physiology and the stress hormone cortisol."

· Jones, M., Rice, S., & Cotton, S. (2018). Who let the dogs out? therapy dogs in clinical practice. Australasian Psychiatry, 26(2), 196-199. doi:10.1177/1039856217749056


For more information on Therapy Dogs International itself,

please visit: https://www.tdi-dog.org

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