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The Rewarding Experience of the Therapy Dog

What is a therapy dog?

A therapy dog's job is to provide comfort and companionship through contact with animals. Animal-assisted therapy is accepted as therapeutic intervention which promotes positive and beneficial health effects.
A therapy dog can often work wonders in bringing happiness or comfort where other therapies have failed. People who have shown no interest for living can suddenly and without provocation, reach out for the friendly paw of man's best friend. Pet visitations by the therapy dog are a particularly rewarding experience for the aged, chronically-ill, psychiatric patients, the disabled or emotionally challenged, as well as inmates of correctional facilities. Therapy dogs also make hospital and long-term care institutions more home-like.

What makes a good therapy dog?

1) First and foremost, is the therapy dogs interest and willingness to socialize with humans.

2) Second, a therapy dog must demonstrate a tolerance to a variety of people; seniors with unsteady gait, people with physical and/or emotional handicaps, children and adolescents.

3) This third factor involves the use of specific training which will allow an animal to be reliable under numerous different circumstances. These skills can also produce effective therapeutic results.

4) A dog who is very calm and very gentle with strangers and children.

5) Last but not least, what all these animals must show is their ability to be loving and forgiving, as this is the door to a human being’s heart, and once that door has been opened, the healing process is set in motion and miracles can, and do occur!


A truly rewarding story of one such therapy dog named "Hank" and his wonderful owner William.



I can’t thank you enough for the dog you sent us.  “Hank” was eight weeks old when he bounded from his crate at the airport exactly one year ago today.  Hank has been a smart dog from the beginning, including being housebroken a week later (we were too stupid to know he already knew to go outside).  As you recall, we made a decision early on to enroll Hank in a training program to help others, which led to his certification as a animal assisted activities/animal assisted therapy dog just two months ago.  Yet because of his size, temperament and calm demeanor, people forget that he is still very much a puppy.

He has been an outstanding AAA/T graduate, so I wanted to share the following with you: 

We arrived early today at the hospital for regular duty, and as usual went over the assignments (participating wards) and various “requests.”   Requests are last-minute requests from someone on staff who has asked for a dog team to come by for one reason or another. 

Today, we were assigned to work two wards, including several requests.

One of the requests involved a young man that they were attempting to “revive” from a coma, and they wanted a dog to assist.   The medical staff, the wife and his mother were all around his bed, talking to him as if he was alert.  He had an obvious head injury and even though he was non responsive, they explained every step that was about to happen, including that a dog was in the room and would soon be at his bedside.

Because he had owned a dog when he was younger, their goal was to use Hank to help bring him out of his coma.  Even though I was very skeptical, I said, “Sure, tell us what to do and we would be more than willing to assist.” 

So they lowered the bed and raised the patient almost to a sitting position.  I brought Hank to the bedside where I gave him a “sit/stay” command.  At their instruction, I lifted his front paws onto the bed, as if he were kneeling for “prayers.”  I also braced his back with my knees so he would be comfortable and stay put.  They then moved the patient’s hand closer to Hank, placed his paw in the palm of the patient’s hand and closed it.  They told him that the dog was there to help him “wake up.”   They told him if he would close his hand, he could feel the Hank’s paw.  His mother was at the end of the bed telling him, “Open your eyes, he looks just like (name of dog).”   Yet nothing happened.  No response.

They took the patient’s hand and rubbed it all over Hank’s nose and ears. Hank was a real trouper through it all, staying there, getting “petted” in this unusual manner for what seemed like an eternity.  I remember thinking, “This isn’t going to work, my back hurts and I’m sure Hank is uncomfortable, too,” when suddenly the patient’s eyes popped wide open, as clear as they could possibly be.  He looked down right at Hank because he could feel him, then looked at his wife and mother at the end of the bed and then again at Hank.  He just smiled.  He was disoriented, of course, but kept looking around the room, mainly fixating right on Hank, as if “what are you doing here?”

Within a few minutes, we backed away while they continued to talk to him and work with him, explaining over and over again where he was, what was going on, etc.  He never spoke while we were there, but clearly he was coming around.

Kleenex was passed out to everyone and I could hear “The dog did it.  The dog did it. The dog got him to wake up.”

With everyone now busier than ever and the room bustling with activity, Hank and I quietly left for our next “request.”




We would like to thank Hank and William for sending us this touching story, and allowing us to feel as if we were a part of this wonderful experience. Thought of the Day: Spell "DOG" Backwards.

http://www.tdi-dog.org/Therapy Dog International, Inc

http://www.therapydogs.com/ Therapy Dog Inc.

http://www.sja.ca/english/volunteer/therapy_dog_program/index.asp St. John Ambulance Therapy Dog Program (Canada)


Other service dogs:


(with size and versatility)