My first thought I had when learning about golden retriever therapy dogs was: If dogs could be therapists, I think a lot more people would consider getting therapy. I mean, I’m sure you would still have to pay, but at least you could give the dog a pat on the head and a “good boy/girl,” on the way out. However, my bubble was burst. That’s not what a therapy dogs actually do. Although, what they actually do is no less awesome.
A therapy dog is a dog that might be trained to provide affection and comfort to people in hospitals, retirement homes, nursing homes, schools, hospices, disaster areas, and to people with autism.
Therapy dogs are usually not assistance or service dogs, but can be one or both with some organizations. In the U.S., therapy dogs are not considered service animals and are not afforded the same privileges as them.
The use of therapy dogs is thought to be started by Elaine Smith, who worked as a registered nurse. Smith noticed how well patients responded to visits by a chaplain and his Golden Retriever. In 1976, Smith started a program for training dogs to visit institutions. Soon, the demand for therapy dogs started to grow. In recent years, therapy dogs have been enlisted to help children overcome speech and emotional disorders.
Many organizations provide evaluation and registration for therapy dogs. In the United States, some organizations require that a dog pass the equivalent of the American Kennel Club’s Canine Good Citizen test. Then further requirements are made that are specific to the environments in which the dogs will be working. Typical tests might ensure that a dog can handle sudden loud or strange noises; can walk on assorted unfamiliar surfaces comfortably; are not frightened by people with canes, wheelchairs, or unusual styles of walking or moving; get along well with children and with the elderly; and so on.
Golden Retriever are a favorite breed to become therapy dogs because of their friendly personalities and willingness to please people. Given the right personality and training, any dog can join these ranks. But the Golden Retriever is really the first breed that usually comes to mind when people think “bright and friendly.”
As I mentioned before in many previous articles, golden retrievers are quite sensitive and are able to tune into peoples’ emotions. Just imagine an elderly lady laying in a hospital bed, when a big, fluffy golden retriever lays its head in her lap. How can you not just melt?
The same scenario could work of all sorts of things. Children with autism relate well to therapy dogs, people with learning disabilities, people getting over tragedies, there are a lot of possibilities for a therapy dog.
In fact, if you own a golden retriever and would like to go out and help people, companies often let people volunteer their dog. You would most likely go to training courses with your dog in order to learn the correct protocol.
Like service dogs, therapy dogs are doing a great thing for us humans.