A therapy dog is trained to provide affection, comfort and support to people in hospitals, retirement homes, nursing homes, schools, libraries, hospices and/or disaster areas. Irish Wolfhounds do exceptionally well as “comfort” dogs as they are naturally calm and sensitive. There are several IWANE members who partake in this activity with their hounds. It provides a brilliant opportunity to bond with your pup by creating that trust and support. People who meet up with Irish Wolfhounds for therapy moments are often in awe of this special relationship between owner and hound and enjoy meeting them.
Therapy dogs are very different from Service dogs and it is unethical to attempt to pass off a therapy dog as such for purposes of being admitted on a plane or in a restaurant. In this section we will be discussing therapy for “comfort and healing”. Please refer to our section on Service dogs for more information on their role in assisting individuals with disabilities, also known as “assistance dogs”.
Training and certification are recommended, and there are several organizations who offer such programs. Exact testing requirements differ based on the organization’s requirements. Some organizations offer classes such as “distraction-proofing,” which strengthens the dog’s ability to focus and therapy training to help prepare the dog and the dog’s owner for therapy visits. A good candidate should be calm and social with strangers. They should also be able to adjust to loud noises and fast movements, or even if they are suddenly grabbed by a patient. For those planning to make hospital and care home visits, it is recommended that they are not highly interested in food! They are often trained not to fear wheelchairs, walking equipment or hospital beds.
Irish Wolfhounds offer more specific therapeutic benefits based upon their size and composure, such as participating in stress-free environments for students studying for exams. Many colleges have programs where students can sit and relax next to dogs while they study in campus libraries. Childrens wards in hospitals give the patients courage to walk along corridors alongside our big dogs, and encourage them to reach cognitive, social and communication goals.
Some mental health challenges and psychiatric disorders are known to respond well to therapy dogs. Patients diagnosed with a range of issues, such as depression, bipolar disorder, autism, ADHD, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and even Alzheimer’s disease benefit from their interaction with therapy pets.
Emotional challenges are the result of physical health problems, and therapy dogs can help with those, too. Experts suggest that patients who are recovering from difficult surgery or a bad accident who spend time with pets may heal more quickly. There are groups who bring their Irish Wolfhounds to airports to help relieve the stresses for those afraid to fly. Studies have shown that such interactions can increase the mood-boosting hormones oxytocin and dopamine and decrease the stress hormone cortisol.
The use of dogs for therapeutic reasons has been demonstrated by many people over the last few centuries, including found or Animal Assisted Therapy, Florence Nightingale. She discovered that patients of different ages living in a psychiatric institution were relieved from anxiety when they were able to spend time with small animals. Even Sigmund Freud used his dog to communicate with his patients and found that they were more comfortable talking to his dog!
The use of dogs in therapy can also be attributed to Elaine Smith, a registered nurse. She noticed that patients were immediately comforted when a chaplain came to visit a trauma ward with his dog. So in 1976, Smith started a program for training dogs to visit institutions, and the demand for therapy dogs continued to grow.
Helpful links for those interested in learning more about Irish Wolfhounds in Therapy.