Dogs have been reported to have a very positive impact on the general health of us humans. They make us get up and go out, exercise and work, and they offer us love and affection. Many professionals also agree that they have a good impact on those who have difficulties expressing themselves in social situations, trust issues or mental health patients.
While it is still unclear how much would be the ideal amount of interaction with a dog, many specialists admit that a therapy dog leaves a good mood behind. Sometimes the visit just lifts the general mood, but dogs also have a calming effect on people with stress, aggression issues and for example ADHD. The latter has been proved in many schools that have a dog visiting a class every now and then.
Therapy animals and care dogs
A person in my family has certified therapy animals and she regularly visits people with her dogs and ferrets. I asked her a couple of questions about her job and their visits, and also how the dog seems to take the visits. She answered the following:
Most commonly we visit mental health patients, elders and physically disabled. There have not been so many children as patients, but they are often present when we visit our customers. Mostly the welcoming is happy and warm. People who ask us to visit are mostly people who can't have their own pets so our visit stands as a highlight from their normal routine day.
She mentions most people say the dogs make them feel special and loved and their calm behavior calms the customers down, too. The dogs seem to enjoy their task and they are let to move quite freely among the customers, meeting people at their own phase. When they come home from a visit the dogs are tired but content, and they don't show any signs of stress or anxiety. For them, therapy meetings mean getting lots of hugs and pets and treats.
It takes a certain kind of dog to work in these changing circumstances, meeting many kinds of people who can't always control their tone of voice, behavior or strength. The dog needs to be calm, collected, trained and well-behaved. Certified therapy dogs have a test they go through, where their behavior and their level of training are measured. It's not an easy task to go through. We also have a group called Kaverikoirat, working under our kennel club, that trains dogs for less severe cases, such as visiting schools, happenings and elder homes. Any dog that behaves nicely among people and other dogs and is social enough to enjoy the company of people can attend. These dogs don't have any special privileges considering places that don't allow dogs, but they are evaluated to make sure the visits always leave a smile on everyone's face.
The issue of "uncertified service animals"
Here, and in many countries around the world, the only kinds of service dogs are those that have a certificate. Certified service dogs are supposed to wear a vest and behave at any circumstance, always under control. If the dog is not certified, it isn't allowed in places where dogs are forbidden. Unlike in many countries where the service dog title is far easier to acquire (and unfortunately means many dogs called like that are actually not that well trained or fit for the task), here you can actually trust that authorities and professionals have both trained and evaluated every dog wearing a vest, and in no situation may these dogs behave aggressive or out of control.
It does, I admit, bug me when people talk about their dogs as ”uncertified service dogs” and explain their bad behavior with lines such as ”this is just a dog, it's not a robot” or ”service dogs are dogs, too, they have instincts”. Both statements are correct, but a dog used in any kind of service task, allowed to go in places ”normal” dogs can't go to, should be in control at all times, showing good behavior both at work and outside work. Saying ”this is a trained service dog” doesn't make any dog a trained service dog. I can call my ferret a trained service ferret, no matter the hybrid one would probably bite any strangers touching it. Those are just words, and without any certificate to proof the quality so to speak, the only real measurement is behaving well both inside and outside of duty.
Service animals should also be able to act without any ”help” from ”tools” such as E-collars, chokers and prong collars. To me, having a dog that can't behave when it doesn't wear a tool like one of these is not having a service dog. Teaching your dog to listen to you and not pull is the first of things to train to a dog, and any animal lacking the basic knowledge like this is a very questionable service animal.
Of course, there are different kinds of service animals, and emotional support dogs, as far as I have heard, are not required to show as advanced training as for example deaf dogs. It is, in any case, questionable to demand a passage for an animal that does not know how to behave, and as long as there is no test to proof the qualities of the dog, how can we make sure it is safe to be allowed in places normal dogs can't?
Another question is, does the dog NEED to be a certified service animal to make you feel better? No, it does not. A dog in general, whether or not it is perfectly trained, is proven to work towards your mental and physical health. They lower the stress levels, calm you down and make you feel unconditional, indivisible love.
Like said before, kindness is powerfull. Sometimes all you need is a loyal dog.