Though they are widely used, many people are still unfamiliar with the function of a "therapy dog". Therapy dogs are used in a variety of ways to produce a general feeling of well being and comfort to people who otherwise might be lonely or lack physical contact. There is a wide body of anecdotal evidence to suggest that contact with pets is beneficial and therapeutic. Some of the specific conditions therapy dogs are used for include:
Visiting sick children and adults in hospitals
Visiting elderly in nursing homes
Providing unconditional affection for people in prisons and shelters
Interacting with persons who have difficulty communicating
Stimulating memory function in Alzheimer's patients
Motivating physical therapy patients to do small repetitive movements (like patting)
Encouraging speech function
Providing practice for physical therapy functions (such as throwing a ball)
Therapy dogs have been shown to provide tremendous emotional reassurance to sick and elderly patients in addition to often being able to motivate patients to do things that humans cannot. For example, many physical therapy patients are much more willing to practice required therapy routines when they can do so by playing fetch with a dog.
Some therapy dogs, particularly those that are used for very specific therapy functions, go through training and certification. However, some dogs that are used just for general hospital and nursing home visits may never receive any special training. These are just docile and patient animals that truly enjoy being around people and that are owned by people who like to lend a helping hand, or paw, in this case. The most important characteristic for potential therapy dogs is a stable temperament, a true love of people and reliably obeying the commands of their handler.
One of the most popular breeds for therapy dogs are Golden Retrievers. This breed is extremely intelligent, so they can easily be trained in any required therapy functions. But, even more importantly, they are sweet, gentle, and love people. The Golden Retriever is quite happy to be around all ages of people, from very young sick children to elderly nursing home patients. Their sweetness and docile nature ensure that they win hearts and provide comfort everywhere they go.
If you're the owner of a Golden Retriever and you're looking for some rewarding volunteer work, consider making your dog a therapy dog. There are local organizations in nearly every area of the country that provide assistance and training to those who wish to use their dogs as therapy dogs. It's a great experience for both you and your beloved companion. You'll be amazed at the comfort and affection your dog can provide to those who don't experience this sort of affection in their daily lives.