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A day in the life of a therapy dog

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Therapy dogs provide comfort, affection and love to children and adults who are living through challenging periods in their lives. Find out more about what a therapy dog does from Ruby as she goes about her work.

Ruby is a 6 year-old Labrador. Three years ago her owner, Patricia, registered Ruby to be a therapy dog. After undergoing checks and assessments to ensure that both Ruby and Patricia were suited to the role, they now regularly visit schools, hospitals and nursing homes in their area to provide comfort, affection and love to children and adults in need. In this article we follow Ruby through a typical day on the job.
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Woof! Hello! My name’s Ruby and I’ve been a therapy dog for three years. I really enjoy my job – the humans I visit are always delighted to see me, and everywhere I go I get lots of hugs, strokes and treats!

A lot of people ask my owner, Patricia, how I qualified to become a therapy dog. Don’t tell anyone, but it was actually quite easy! Because I’m not an assistance or service dog, whose job is to provide day-to-day help to a human owner with a disability (such as blindness), I didn’t need any special training to become a therapy dog. I did, however, undergo assessments to ensure I had a calm, unexcitable temperament, and also that I was not easily startled or frightened by strange places or noisy children. As a Labrador – famous for our gentle natures – needless to say I passed with flying colours! Other dog breeds that tend to make good therapy dogs include Golden Retrievers, Collies, German Shepherds, Beagles, Greyhounds and Pomeranians. And can you believe they even let cats apply to be therapy animals?!

Being a therapy dog

One of the reasons I love my job is that no two days are the same. I visit a lot of schools in my neighbourhood, as well as various hospitals and other places for poorly or vulnerable humans. It’s great to spend time with lots of different humans of all ages, shapes and sizes.

Therapy dogs in schools
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Therapy dogs in schools

One of my main jobs in schools is to help children with their reading skills. Yes, really! Sometimes kids can become nervous and stressed when asked to read aloud in class. This can make them associate reading with negative feelings – which is where Patricia and I come in. We mingle with the kids in the class, which helps them relax because everyone is always happy to see us! Then the kids who are struggling with their reading take it in turns to read me a story. Because they are more relaxed, and focussed on me and Patricia, they do not feel as much pressure, which can really help with confidence – and with progression in their reading. And I get to listen to lots of stories!

But it’s not all about studying – there’s plenty of time for me to play and interact with all the children, something I love to do!

Therapy dogs in nursing homes

Usually when people enter nursing homes, they are no longer able to have pets. But I’m allowed to go and visit, and you can see how much people love and miss being around animals as soon as I walk into the room. Like almost every other human, the residents of nursing homes adore a wagging tail, a pair of big brown eyes and a cold wet nose! This is particularly true of residents who are depressed, sick or withdrawn, and it’s these residents that Patricia and I try to focus on. Spending time with – and fussing over – a dog like me can really make a difference to someone’s day, which in turn can have positive effects on how they feel. And it’s not only the residents who look forward to our visits – the staff love to see us too!

Other jobs for therapy dogs

Therapy dogs – and other animals – work in many different settings. Often we visit humans who are in some kind of institutional care setting, so hospitals are other places where we are welcomed and valued. We particularly enjoy visiting the children’s wards! What’s important is our ability to make a connection with humans who, for whatever reason, are having difficulty connecting in other ways. This ability to connect is incredibly important, and is one of the reasons why dogs are also used as companions for people with autism. Autism assistance dogs are specially trained to provide companionship and comfort to people with autism who may struggle to communicate or make themselves understood to other humans. They also serve to keep them safe, as dogs can be taught to recognise dangers that some autistic people – and particularly children – may not be so aware of, such as busy roads or deep water.

How do I find out more?

If you are considering applying (with your pet!) to become a therapy animal and volunteer partnership, there are a number of specialist organisations that can help you do so, and which you can find online. Similarly, if you or your institution would like to begin to receive visits from therapy animals, then these organisations will be delighted to help!

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