K-9 Assisted Therapy utilizes these qualities to benefit individuals affected by traumatic experiences and suffer physical and emotional stress. K-9 assisted therapy has been vastly researched and is used extensively by the VA for the treatment of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and depression in veterans. K-9 Assisted Therapy is about your interaction with the dog. Therapy dogs are trained to remain calm and attuned to their environment. They are easy to bond with, very affectionate, and fun to play with. Recent studies in the field of Animal Assisted Therapy shows an increase of Oxytocin in the blood, also known as the bonding hormone, after only five minutes of petting a dog. Reduction in stress, anxiety and other symptoms of depression are also improved as a result of Animal Assisted Therapy. 

Riley, a young

Labrador Retriever. 
He is trained in obedience and is a certified Therapy Dog, by the American Kennel Club and Operation Freedom Paws. 

Q: Is Riley a service dog?

A: No. Service dogs are trained to meet the needs of individuals with specific disabilities that can be only obtained with a special permit provided by a primary care physician. Service dogs undertake rigorous training and learn to conduct at least two specific tasks that are compensatory to the needs of their owner. For example service dogs of individuals with hearing impairments might be trained to tap their owners when the doorbell rings. People who experience confined mobility may have a service dog that is trained to get certain items around the house. Service Dogs are protected by federal law and are the only working dogs allowed in places otherwise restricted for dogs, such as restaurants, grocery stores, airport, etc.  

Q: What do therapy dogs do?

Here are some examples of what therapy dogs do:

1. Therapy dogs pay a weekly visit to a public facility, like nursing homes, schools, hospitals, libraries, prisons, etc. They interact by allowing people stroke them, talk to them, read to them, and sit on their lap (when appropriate). Therapy dogs in such settings are highly trained and obedient. They have been exposed to different types of stimulation and environments. For example, dogs attending schools and libraries should be comfortable around children.  Dogs visiting hospitals should be able to remain calm among walkers, wheelchairs, or any other auditory stimulation characteristic of such a place. One or more of the various organizations that provide supervised visits certifies therapy dogs in this category. For example Furry Friends, Pets Partners, and Delta International. Federal law and permission do not protect these dogs for visits are coordinated by the certifying organization.

2. Therapy Dogs can assist individuals facing emotional/psychological challenges. Therapy dogs in this category have owners who struggle with anxiety, depression, posttraumatic stress, autism, and more. It is better if they are trained in obedience, though their primary role is in providing comfort and help calm, or cheer up their owner merely by their natural ability to tune in and connect with their owner. These dogs are not protected by federal law and might be allowed in some dog-restricted areas (like air-plains, or rental units) as long as they are certified, and handler can present an authorization permit from a psychologist, psychiatrist, or primary care physician. 

3. Mental health professional assistant (also known as K-9 assisted therapy). Therapy dogs in this category are trained to accompany mental health professionals at their work. These dogs are trained and certified in advanced obedience, and the clinicians are trained as dog handlers as well as in dog's behaviorism. The procedure of K-9 therapy depends on the client's level of interaction with the dog. Therapy dogs in such settings can provide comfort at moments of grief, assist in chronic pain management, and play a role in facilitating a sense of competence and enhanced self-esteem for children. Federal law does not protect dogs in this category, and their ability to access certain facilities may vary from one facility to next.  

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