Things to Consider about the Human Expectations Placed on Therapy Dogs
The following quotes are from Kris Butler, a woman with long experience doing animal-assisted therapy. The quotes are taken from her book, Therapy Dogs Today, Their Gifts, Our Obligation. We urge you to read them carefully and consider if this is the type of activity your dog is suited for and would enjoy doing.
“Nothing else dogs do compares to the kinds of intrinsically stressful social interaction that takes place when they visit clinical, educational, or post-trauma situations. No other canine-related events, no sport nor competition, requires a dog to enter the intimate zones of unfamiliar humans and remain there for several minutes of petting and hugging. Brief interactions with judges in show rings do not compare to the prolonged and repeated contact that takes place during animal-enhanced programs. Search-and-rescue dogs often work in chaotic environments, but not with prolonged physical contact of unfamiliar people. Service dogs work beautifully in public settings, but the public is actively discouraged from touching, petting and distracting them. Humans have developed a role for visiting dogs like no other in existence. The role is new, specific and profound. Most dogs have been bred for generations to distinguish between outsiders and family, and to act accordingly. There has never been a breed of dog designed to enjoy encroachment from strangers. Dogs who actually enjoy interactions in clinical and educational settings are very rare, and the uniqueness of their talent should be appreciated.” (p. 31)
“Dogs who are comfortable and enjoy unfamiliar people will remain engaged with their assessors and will offer at least some eye contact. Conversely, dogs who are not willing to initiate contact or remain engaged with their assessors probably do not want to be touched and petted by unfamiliar people.” (p. 44)
“For dogs, the effects of real human emotion, the stress of having large numbers of unfamiliar humans grabbing and hugging them, contact with toxic surfaces, and overcoming sensory stimuli are not simple training issues. These are humane issues. Certainly, dogs can be trained to persevere in spite of distractions and sensory bombardment. Sadly, these conditioning process inadvertently teaches these dogs not to use calming signals, and less savvy handlers and evaluators mistake the lack of signaling for ‘being comfortable with.’ . . . Just because some dogs are willing to tolerate overwhelming environments does not mean people have license to exploit their visiting partners. Some environments impose too much upon dogs.” (p. 59-60)
Excerpts from Therapy Dogs Today, Their Gifts, Our Obligation, by Kris Butler, Funpuddle Publishing 2004, ISBN 0-9747793-)-X.
(used with permission)
Read Diana McQuarrie’s review of this book by clicking the document link below.