Category Archives: therapy animals

Will You Be Watching the National Dog Show Tomorrow?

Eli, National Dog Show Ambassador

By Linda Cole

This year, the National Dog Show will celebrate its 10th anniversary. The televised dog show has become a Thanksgiving Day tradition along with the Macy’s parade. What better way to spend the holiday than surrounded by family and friends as you enjoy a fun filled afternoon of marching bands and floats, good food and lots of great dogs.

I was invited to attend a phone press conference last week that included David Frei and Mary Carillo. David is the Communications Director for the Westminster Dog Show, and Mary is a retired tennis pro turned sports broadcaster. David is hosting the National Dog Show this year, and Mary is the featured reporter and commentator.

The National Dog Show is one of only six dog shows where the public is invited to go behind the scenes to meet the dogs and talk with their handlers and groomers. The show draws the top ranked dogs and this year’s entries will be close to 2,000 dogs. Dog lovers can see firsthand how show dogs are prepped for the big stage. Around 20 million dog loving viewers tuned in to watch last year’s show.

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Can Your Pet Become a Therapy Animal for Seniors?

By Tamara L. Waters

There are two things that can almost always bring a smile to any face: Children and animals. As my elderly grandmother’s health and mind deteriorated in the years prior to her death, a child or an animal could still make her smile. This fact is not lost upon senior centers that use therapy animals to bring joy to their patients.

According to The Delta Society – a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting therapy through pet ownership and interaction – the health benefits pets have on seniors are undeniable. The Delta Society website cites studies asserting that seniors with pets have fewer doctor visits and have lower blood pressure and cholesterol. Those of us who’ve had the privilege of being pet owners know firsthand that a pet offers unconditional love and companionship. My own pets seem to know when I need some furry affection, and their presence is calming.

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Nursing Homes are going to the Dogs!

By Suzanne Alicie

People who love pets can’t imagine having to live without the comfort of a furry back to stroke or a purring foot warmer. However, as responsible pet owners age they may have to face the fact that they can no longer live alone and must move to a nursing home. Because there are so many people with different ailments and afflictions in a nursing home, more than likely the person won’t be able to take their beloved pets. New residents in a nursing home may experience depression due to the changes in their life and the loss of their pets.

Just imagine raising a puppy and providing it with wonderful care, attention and all the best in natural pet food like CANIDAE for years and then finding out that you are unable to care for him anymore. You are going to be moving to an assisted living facility and have to give up your precious pet to another family. It’s heartbreaking.

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Facility Therapy Dog Dexter Goes Back to School!

By Tamara L. Waters

Mary’s little lamb might have followed her to school – and that was against the rules – but if you visit the Mill Creek Middle School in Dexter, Michigan, you’ll find that rule is not necessarily steadfast. Mill Creek Middle School is where you’ll find Dexter the certified Facility Therapy Dog encouraging kids to read, helping students who are feeling stressed or afraid, and greeting kids when they arrive on the morning school buses.

If you’ve had a pet, you know how they can calm and soothe when you’re anxious or afraid. Kids who have special needs will find comfort in Dexter’s presence as he does what dogs do best – give love and doggy affection.

Dexter is a 22-month-old Labrador Retriever, and he is now a part of the staff at Mill Creek Middle School where he is already a big hit with staff and students. Imagine being nervous about reading out loud because you’re worried about the reaction of others. With Dexter, students will get nothing but a tail wag, a friendly lick and a furry snuggle to spur them along and encourage them to do their best.

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What Qualities Does a Therapy Cat Need?


By Julia Williams

We recently introduced you to therapy dogs Stitch, Riley and Sophie, sponsored by CANIDAE. Inspired by their heartwarming story, I began to wonder if there was such a thing as therapy cats. I didn’t really think so, given that my feline friends have all been “scaredy-cats” who run and hide from the vacuum cleaner (aka, the “suck monster”), the Fedex guy, and pretty much all visitors except a chosen few. It turns out there are lots of calmer, more courageous kitties who aren’t afraid of strangers or noisy places, and these are the ones who make good therapy cats.

I’ve recently become acquainted with a delightful therapy cat named Tabitha, or Tabby for short. Tabby’s human mom, Karen, graciously gave me some information on the qualities a therapy cat needs and how to get started. I thought I’d pass them on, in case you have an outgoing feline and you’re interested in training them to be a therapy cat volunteer. I’d really like to do this myself, but I know my three kitties (bless their hearts), would make terrible therapy cats.

First though, let me tell you a little about Tabby. She just turned five and has been doing animal-assisted therapy for about a year. She’s a tabby cat of course, and lives in Vancouver, WA with Karen, her husband Scott and four other felines. Tabby loves human attention and being petted which, along with her calm demeanor and sociable nature, make her well suited to therapy cat work. Tabby likes attention so much that at home, she demands it from her humans all the time (that sounds like my cat Belle!). During her therapy cat training, Tabby even invented her own way of asking for petting – by sitting down and tapping people with one paw.

Karen trained Tabby using the evaluation criteria of The Delta Society, regarded as the top training/certification program for Animal Assisted Therapy. Tabby isn’t certified yet, but she will be very soon. In the meantime, the plucky feline is getting lots of paws-on experience as a therapy cat. How did that come about? Karen spoke with the director of an assisted living facility about Tabby and her training, and they agreed to meet her. Tabby naturally charmed everyone during her first visit – and the rest, as they say, is history!

Karen takes Tabby to the facility so she can visit with people who have severely limited mobility, dementia, Alzheimer’s, and other ailments that make it hard for them to interact with people. Tabby also goes to a nursing home and an extended care facility at the request of a resident’s family. No matter who she visits, Tabby always brings them a great deal of comfort and joy.

Before she began her therapy cat training, Tabby learned to wear a harness and leash, and ride in a cat stroller. During visits, the cat needs to be controlled somehow, and a leash is the best way. Karen said it’s not essential that the cat learn to walk on the leash, but people do enjoy seeing it. In any event, a harness and leash will keep the cat safe should they be startled by something and try to run away. If you’d like to leash-train your cat, this article gives step-by-step instructions.

To get Tabby used to strange settings and new experiences, Karen takes her to dog parks, offices, and stores that allow pets inside. Therapy cats should be even-tempered, outgoing and not afraid to meet new people. They shouldn’t growl or hiss at people, cats, dogs or other animals. Said Karen, “You can train them for the specifics, but if they aren’t calm then no amount of training will be enough.” Most Home Depot stores allow pets inside, she said, and they’re a perfect place to acclimate the cat to loud sounds, beeping equipment, carts (akin to wheelchairs in a facility setting), and being petted by strangers.

Not all therapy cats work with the elderly; some work with children in schools or pediatric therapy settings, and some work one-on-one with occupational therapy professionals. It’s important to choose a setting where you and your cat are comfortable, and pay attention to what your cat is telling you. Every cat has its own time limits, noise threshold and comfort level in strange situations. Watch your cat’s body language for signs of anxiety or fear, and end the training or visit when your cat tells you it’s time. You can always train more another day, but pushing your cat beyond their tolerance level will result in them not wanting to continue.

You can read more about Tabby’s therapy visits on her blog, Furry Tales of the PDX Pride. Tabby writes about her exploits so descriptively that it feels like you’re right there with her, visiting the patients and experiencing everything she does. Being a therapy cat is hard work, but it’s also very rewarding. I tip my hat to Tabby, a therapy cat extraordinaire! I can tell she loves her “job,” and she brings joy to so many people who really need it.

Read more articles by Julia Williams

The personal opinions and/or use of trade, corporate or brand names, is for information and convenience only. Such use does not constitute an endorsement by CANIDAE® All Natural Pet Foods of any product or service. Opinions are those of the individual authors and not necessarily of CANIDAE® All Natural Pet Foods.

What Qualities Does a Therapy Dog Need?


By Julia Williams

Last month I wrote about some of the many hard working dogs I admire. Naturally, therapy dogs are among this elite group of canine good citizens who contribute to our society. A therapy dog’s “job” is to visit nursing homes, retirement homes, hospitals, schools, prisons and other places where their emotional support is needed. Therapy dogs bring happiness, comfort, love and vitality to seniors, sick people, the disabled, and others who can benefit from the special spirit-lifting attention of a canine.

What exactly does a therapy dog do? Sometimes they provide much-needed companionship, and sit or lie quietly while being petted and talked to. Therapy dogs may work with disabled children, or visit elementary schools to help kids learn about humane treatment of animals. They might also visit patients in pediatrics, oncology, and other hospital wards or hospice centers.

Though sometimes thought of as service dogs, therapy dogs aren’t classified as such because they’re not trained to stay with people and don’t directly assist them with tasks. Therapy dogs also don’t require the intensive specialized training that service dogs do, but they must still be taught basic canine obedience, as well as how to properly act in a variety of settings and situations.

Have you ever wondered if your dog has what it takes to be a therapy dog? The good news is that virtually any breed of dog, large or small, young or old, can become a certified therapy dog. However, not all dogs have the personality and temperament needed to be successful at it. A therapy dog must be friendly, even-tempered, consistent, gentle, confident, comfortable meeting new people, and reliable in unusual environments. Above all, they must love people and truly enjoy being around them while being hugged, kissed and petted.

Qualities that make a good therapy dog include:

Good Canine Manners

A therapy dog needs to walk nicely on a leash, at the handler’s side. A dog that pulls on their leash can pose a safety hazard. They should not jump up on people or bark during a visit.

Naturally, therapy dogs need to be properly socialized with people. But they also need to be socialized with other dogs as well as cats, birds and even rabbits, since a facility might have any one of those as a resident. Very often, dogs and handlers will do team visits, so it’s important that a therapy be able to get along well with other dogs.

Therapy dogs need to be very obedient, and come reliably when called, even in high-distraction environments. They can’t jump onto beds or laps uninvited, or put their mouths on people. They should be able to greet people and respond to affection while maintaining a “sit,” so they don’t overwhelm frail patients or frighten people who aren’t used to being around dogs.

Therapy dogs must respond to commands given in a calm, quiet voice. Besides basic commands such as sit, stay and down, many therapy dogs know commands such as Paws On (put your paws up on a bed or chair) and Paws Off (put your paws back on the floor).

During a visit, therapy dogs may be exposed to bits of food on the floor, buffets, meal trays and other tasty morsels. Good therapy dogs respond reliably to commands to resist such temptations, such as “leave it,” which is essential for their own health as well as the patients they are visiting.

Comfortable Being Touched

A therapy dog must tolerate being petted on every part of its body, including the ears, tail and feet. Some patients may have problems with motor skills and muscle control, and their petting can be awkward or inadvertently rough. Any signs of aggression towards people would disqualify a dog as a certified therapy dog.

Social Skills

Therapy dogs may encounter all sorts of strange and startling things, such as loud voices and noises, shouting, crowds and unexpected noises. They can’t be expected to ignore these things, but should be able to recover quickly and not try to bolt away.

Therapy dogs will likely encounter many strange pieces of equipment and unfamiliar objects such as crutches, wheelchairs and gurneys. They need to remain calm and be comfortable and confident around these things.

Cleanliness and Good Health

A therapy dog needs to be bathed and brushed often, especially right before a scheduled visit. Their nails need to be kept short to avoid accidental scratches. Their skin and coat should be healthy and free from any sores or skin irritations. They require current vaccinations and annual vet check-ups.

Disposition

Good therapy dogs tolerate being dressed up in silly hats, costumes or capes that make people laugh and brighten their spirits. While this is certainly not a requirement or an everyday thing, it can be a way to add extra joy to holidays or other special occasions. It also doesn’t hurt if the dog knows a people-pleasing trick or two.

CANIDAE is proud to sponsor several therapy dogs, including Stitch, Riley and Sophie, a trio we profiled a few weeks ago. You can read their touching story here, or check out other special canine achievers on the CANIDAE website.

Read more articles by Julia Williams

The personal opinions and/or use of trade, corporate or brand names, is for information and convenience only. Such use does not constitute an endorsement by CANIDAE® All Natural Pet Foods of any product or service. Opinions are those of the individual authors and not necessarily of CANIDAE® All Natural Pet Foods.