It is well known that people who receive pet therapy benefit from the engagement, we also need to ensure that the therapy dog has an equally good time.
Cariad Pet Therapy's definition of Pet Therapy:
‘A partnership between a consenting therapy dog and its compassionate owner to improve the wellness of themselves and others through human-animal engagements.’
A breakdown of our definition of pet therapy:
Partnership, is the bond between the therapy dog and its owner, that enables reciprocal trust, security and mutual understanding. This allows the informed owner to respond to their dogs’ needs, and to advocate on their behalf.
Consenting, is where the therapy dog displays signals that demonstrate a willingness to freely engage of their own volition, with someone they may or may not have met before. Consent to engage, can be given or withdrawn, by the dog at any time with support from the owner.
Therapy dog, is a companion dog that has passed a temperament assessment with Cariad Pet Therapy, is escorted by their owner, is identifiable, and is comfortable within their role.
Compassionate owner, is the person or persons that own the therapy dog, and possess a frame of mind, that makes it easy to treat others kindly, and with empathy and understanding.
Improve the wellness of themselves and others, is when the engagement has wellness benefits for everyone. As well as benefits to the owner and therapy dog, the engagement improves the wellness of others, by supporting many areas of need, for example, loneliness, stress, anxiety, oracy and literacy, recovery and rehabilitation, employee experience, and in helping patients to access therapy groups.
Through Human-Animal engagements, is providing diverse, high-quality informal engagements between humans and dogs that elicit lasting positive emotional, social, physical, and physiological responses, for both the humans and dog.
Pet therapy must be beneficial for all parties. We achieve this through our 4PAWApproach. The 4PAWApproach has four elements, that need to align for pet therapy to proceed.
Consideration must be given to:
1. The Dog
When using a dog for therapeutic purposes, we must ensure that the dog is fit for purpose, comfortable, and happy to take part, and that we advocate on the dog’s behalf.
2. The Volunteer
Volunteers are to be given the relevant training, opportunities, information, and ongoing support to fulfil their role, with their welfare, always being considered.
3. The person or persons being visited
The beneficiaries must understand the aim of a visit, and their responsibilities towards the visiting therapy dog and the volunteer. If the beneficiaries lack mental capacity, this responsibility lies with the caregivers.
4. The placement and its environment where the visit are to take place
Where the visit will take place must be conducive to a positive experience for the dog and volunteer. The environment must be free from stress or danger.
How we achieve this?
By following our therapy dog assessment procedure.
By following our volunteer recruitment procedure.
All volunteers to complete our onboarding programme, with yearly refreshers.
Volunteers to complete periodical feedback surveys on each area, in relation to the 4PAWApproach.
By following visitor protocols, and their risk assessments.
By completing Therapy Dog Visit Agreements (which contain our risk assessment).
By keeping up to date with current trends and developing and sharing the good practice of our own..
To carry out our responsibility towards animal welfare, we must recognise how the therapy dog communicates displeasure, or stress, as well as when it is happy.
We do this by observing our dog’s behaviour, and relying on the knowledge of our dog.
There will be obvious signals that show a dog’s happiness, such as a high waggy tail, floppy ears, playfulness, they lean into you, and their body is relaxed.
There will be obvious signals that show a dog’s displeasure, such as a low tucked tail, their ears are back, they are hiding, or walking away.
There will also be other stress signals, some less obvious, that show displeasure in dogs, such as:
Yawning, this can be a sign that a dog is tired, but it also signals stress
Lip licking or tongue flicking. Dogs lick their lips when they are nervous
Brief body freezing, the dog is still for a few seconds before reacting
Body freezing, the dog freezes until the threat goes away, or he decides to use fight or flight
'Whale Eye'. the dog turns his head away but keeps looking at the perceived threat, showing the whites of his eyes
Head turn, the dog will turn his head away from a fear source, as a gesture of appeasement
Furrowed brow, curved eyebrows, caused by facial tension
Tense jaw – the mouth is closed, and the dog is preparing for action
Hugging – a dog will gain comfort by holding onto his owner
Low tail carriage – indicates discomfort, and uncertainty
Twitching whiskers – caused by facial tension
Drooling – stress can also cause excessive salivation
Sweaty paws – dogs sweat through their foot pads
It is important that we understand our dog’s communication signals which indicate they are happy to engage in pet therapy.