Does your child feel stressed this exam season? A furry therapy animal may be just what they need to help them feel more relaxed.
A therapy animal (commonly a dog or cat) is trained to comfort to people in stressful or lonely situations. One can often find a therapy animal in hospitals, retirement homes, and schools (especially near the exam period). Therapy animals also help to comfort people with learning difficulties and those in disaster areas.
Therapy dogs and cats come in all sizes and breeds. However, the animal must be comfortable, friendly, and gentle in all situations. “A therapy dog’s primary job is to allow unfamiliar people to interact and make physical contact with him and to enjoy that contact. Children, in particular, enjoy hugging animals; adults usually enjoy simply petting the dog” (Peninsula Humane Society).
A therapy animal is different from a service animal. “Service dogs are trained to provide a service directly to th[ei]r disabled handler, while a therapy dog is trained to provide a service to others working for a handler who may not have a disability at all. Therapy dogs do not share the same public access rights as service dogs and therefore may be denied admittance to public places.”
Another common misconception is that therapy dogs exclusively help individuals with special needs. However, having a furry companion can help just about anyone with their everyday struggles. The companionship of a therapy animal can help children to:
- Improve their confidence and motivation to read.
- Remain calm (we see this in autistic children and the changes their behavior).
- Relieve stress.
- Provide a sense of security.
Why are therapy animals essential you ask?
- They are excellent listeners and children will not be afraid to take risks when reading to them (dogs don’t care if you stumble over a word).
- They provide a non-judgmental and safe audience for a child who is learning to read.
Take, for example, my own experience with my furry companion, Ginger, a 6-year-old golden retriever. Ginger visits universities during midterms and exams to assist with stress relief. Many students find petting and even hugging dogs during this stressful period to be a stress-relieving activity. Ginger also visits local libraries where she sits with and listens to many young emerging readers. The children feel comfortable reading to a dog who will not mind when they struggle through a difficult reading passage.
Want to know more about therapy dogs? Check out the following helpful resources:
- Therapeutic Paws of Canada
- Article about Therapy Dogs and Children
- Therapy Dog Services from St. John’s Ambulance
Casey Donnelly, BA/B.Ed.