Xar, my 3 year old Scottish Deerhound, and I are a therapy dog team. I hold the leash and he works his magic.
As members of a local Therapy Dog group, we participate in programs at elementary schools and libraries that accelerate reading skills and behavioral health sessions with children. Much of our focus is the promotion of safe interaction with dogs while encouraging a greater comfort level and respect for pets.
A Therapy Dog is NOT a Service Animal, meaning they don’t provide a functional service for someone who is physically challenged, i.e. a Seeing Eye Dog. Therapy Dogs provide emotional support, stress reduction and a feeling of wellbeing in those with whom they interact. Xar is a quiet boy who radiates a calm demeanor while exhibiting a friendly attitude. Never pushy but always open to interact with both 2 and 4 legged individuals. He is an excellent ambassador for the Therapy Dog program.
Every so often, we have a request for one-on-one sessions with people who want to overcome a fear of dogs. Xar and I recently participated in the third such session with a little girl who had been bitten in the face by the family dog. She had made significant progress dealing with her resulting fears during the first and second sessions. Gradually increasing the size of the dog with each session, Xar was the largest presented to her so far. He silently greeted mother and daughter at the door, making no effort to touch either one. After the initial introduction of dog to girl with a brief personal and breed history, the WASP (wait, ask, smell and pet) approach was once again reviewed with a discussion of how to interact with an unfamiliar dog. Her comfort level increased to the point that she and Xar went for a supervised walk around the halls, asked him to do a trick and praised him for his performance, and most telling of all, she was able to pet him while sitting next to him on the floor.
Regardless of whether the sessions continue, the girl has made significant progress thus far in conquering her discomfort. By gaining confidence in how to deal safely with dogs in general along with the positive interaction with Therapy Dogs, she is well on her way to recovery. Should she require additional sessions, a Therapy Dog will be there to help her.
To learn more about a Therapy Dog program, please contact: Alliance of Therapy Dogs (https://www.therapydogs.com/) for a tester/observer/group leader in your area.