Therapy dogs in nursing homes

The Volpino Italiano needs a medium Plexidor dog doorA nursing home is a place for a person who needs more care around the clock than can be reasonably given at home, but who doesn’t need to be in a hospital. Many nursing homes strive for a home-like environment. Some allow residents to bring their pets, but this isn’t always possible, and many nursing homes around the USA have opened their doors to therapy dogs who come visit on a regular basis.

Dogs have an instinctive way of knowing when they are needed, and a visit from a dog can calm and soothe someone, or lift the spirits of a person who is sad and lonely. The dogs provide a physical touch and many love the feeling of soft fur. They also bring warmth, joy, and a patient ear that will always listen.

Some believe only a certain breed can become a therapy dog, or that they are raised for this purpose as puppies. Therapy dogs come in all breeds and sizes, and many are rescue dogs.

If you’re interested in doing therapy work with your dog, start by training some basic obedience, and bring your dog to many different environments so he or she gets used to noises and people. Then, find a therapy-dog organization in your area. Many states have animal-assisted therapy organizations that offer training programs.

To become a certified therapy dog, a trainer will evaluate you and your dog and suggest courses to take. Then, you’re ready to volunteer. Many organizations will help you find volunteer opportunities. Here is a list that can help you get started.

Bringing dogs to work can reduce stress levels

dog with phone
Dogs in the work place can help reduce stress

Sandra Barker is a professor of psychiatry at Virginia Commonwealth’s School of Medicine, and she has been involved in several studies researching dogs in the workplace. The results may not come as big surprises to dog lovers, but are interesting nonetheless.

A study was made in 2012 at a large manufacturing company. The study included 76 employees, and having just three dogs present on any given day reduced the stress level by 11 percent during the day.

Employees with their dogs left at home, however, had an increase in stress level of 71 percent. As the day progresses, dog owners clearly worry about their furry friends!

Having a dog present in the workplace can work as a buffer against stress – things still happen, but humans react less to stress factors with pets around.

Nationally, around 2 percent of dog owners take their pets to work, and this adds up to around one million dogs in workplaces around the country.

Not every dog is cut out to be a police dog

The Belgian Malinois is a breed used by police forces all over the world, and they excel at security work, protection, search and rescue, scent detection, and many other things. However, dogs are individuals just like people, and police work isn’t for everyone. 

Cash is a two year old Belgian Malinois, and he was supposed to join the police force of Cannon Beach, Oregon. While he surely did his best, it was soon clear to the officers that Cash wasn’t cut out for the job; the poor dog was afraid of heights, skittish, and maybe even afraid of drugs – he’d bark aggressively instead of sniffing them out.

Cash is now returned to his original owner, and will hopefully find a new career.

The Belgian Malinois was originally bred to be a herding dog. Many confuse the dogs with German Shepherds, but they are quite different dogs. They are generally quick to learn and eager to please their humans, they have an abundance of energy, and require interaction and exercise.


Cash, the Belgian Malinois

Hurricane and Jordan protect the White House

The Secret Service has previously had problems keeping fence jumpers away from the White House. It’s hard to stop a runner without shooting them, and as recently as September a person managed to jump the fence and med it all the way inside the Executive Mansion. Someone tried again a few days ago, but this time, four-footed officers Hurricane and Jordan were there to thwart the attempt.

Hurricane and Jordan might not be the kind of Secret Service heroes Hollywood shows us on the silver screen, but they are real, fast, and efficient. The two Belgian Malinois dogs caught the intruder within seconds and held him until human agents caught up with them.

The intruder tried to kick and punch the dogs, and they were slightly injured in the line of duty, but received swift veterinary care. Attempting to injure law enforcement animals is a bad idea – the intruder may now be prosecuted not just for illegally enter the White House grounds, but also be prosecuted under the Federal Law Enforcement Animal Protection Act. The act makes it illegal to even try to inflict injury upon animals used by federal law enforcement.

Hurricane is a six year old Belgian Malinois, and he likes his Kong toy. Jordan is a five year old Belgian Malinois, and he likes walks around the White House.



Dog keeps human from chasing cars

Many dog owners have problems with their pooches chasing, or even attempting to herd cars. In the case of Ruby and Garrett it’s the other way around, and this golden retriever does a fine job keeping her human safe.

Garrett is a little boy with a severe case of autism who tends to wander off.  Even with several locks, deadbolts, and alarms on the front door he would leave and go to other people’s houses, or just walk in the middle of the street. He also has a disorder making him want to eat unsuitable items, puts himself in danger, and needs 24/7 supervision. The situation was so bad the family avoided going anywhere out of fear of losing him.

The arrival of Ruby changed everything.

Ruby is a service dog who has undergone extensive training by Tender Loving Canines to help her autistic boy. She not  only keeps track of Garrett – she is also his first and best friend. Persons with autism have a hard time expressing themselves and often can’t make friends, but that doesn’t mean they don’t get lonely. Before Ruby Garrett would barely talk, and now he sings songs to his dog.

Before Ruby was placed with the family, the trainers made many visits to make sure she was the right fit, that she would be gentle with Garrett, and he with her. They still make follow up visits, and right now Ruby undergoes training to track him in case he wanders off.



Suffolk DA hires comfort dog

Many victims of crime, especially children, are too traumatized to talk about what happened, but talking is required to solve the situation. A Suffolk District Attorney has found a new way to help victims relax: Indy, a 2 year old Golden Retriever.

Indy is trained to comfort people in emotional distress, and he is the first facility dog to work in a governmental agency in New England. He is donated by Canine Companions for Independence, and he has a knack for building trust and relaxing the people who need it the most.

Each service dog placed by Canine Companions cost over $45,000 to raise and train. The dogs undergo intensive training,learning over 50 commands, and each dog is recertified every year.

Indy can open doors and pick up items, helping people with physical  tasks, but his greatest talent is for emotional support. He has already made a big difference for victims in Suffolk, and his duties might well be expanded. Read more on the Boston Globe!

Therapy dogs at hospice

A hospice is a medical facility or at-home care that provides services and emotional support to a person in the last stages of a serious illness. A hospice facility is focused on reaching a good quality of life, and therapy dogs play an increasingly important role.

Many persons with hospice care have spent their lives with animals, and suddenly they can’t have a pet anymore. Therapy dogs provide the love, comfort, and companionship needed, and enrich the lives of both patients and families. The dogs can provide a physical contact many yearn for, combat loneliness, and make a person feel needed and wanted.

Hospice work isn’t for all dogs, or all handlers, but if it’s something you would like to do with your dog, it makes a big difference for the people who needs it the most.

In order to interact with the patients, the dog must prove itself reliable and with an appropriate temperament. The dogs must be at least one year old to be trained for hospice work, but other than that they can be large or small, mutts or pure breds. The dog must be healthy, and obey basic commands.

If you’re interested in hospice work with your dog, take a look at Therapy Dogs International. They have a testing brochure available telling you about the steps the dog must be able to handle, and you can read more about their testing requirements here.


Time to vote in the Hero Dog Awards!

Each year, the American Humane Association holds a competition in order to find and recognize the country’s phenomenal hero dogs. Voting is open until September 15th, so you still have a chance to get your vote in.

Dogs running for the award come from all walks of life, and there are eight categories:

  • Law Enforcement Dogs
  • Arson Dogs
  • Service Dogs
  • Therapy Dogs
  • Military Dogs
  • Guide and Hearing Dogs
  • Search and Rescue Dogs
  • Emerging Hero Dogs

The last category are for ordinary dogs who do extraordinary things, or are heroes to their families.

One dog also walks away with top honors as the winning American Hero Dog, and the prize is $5,000 for a charity. In 2013, Elle the Pitbull became the American Hero Dog. She’s a therapy dog who also works as safety educator, and with a children’s reading program.

Watch this wonderful video about Elle, and hop on over to // to vote for a 2014 Hero Dog!


International Assistance Dog Week

service dogThe International Assistance Dog Week is celebrated August 3 to August 9 2014. The event was created to celebrate all the devoted and hard working dogs that help individuals around the world every day.

The goals of the week is to recognize and honor assistance dogs, to raise awareness and educate, honor the trainers, and recognize heroic deeds performed by assistance dogs.

Assistance dogs can be pure bred or mutts. Many come from shelters. Regardless of size and color they all have one thing in common: they change the lives of their handlers and provide independence. They often make the difference between isolation and an active life. Examples of assistance dogs include Guide Dogs, Hearing dogs, and Service dogs.

These fantastic dogs can guide a blind handler safety through traffic, hear alarms, alert for seizures, and some are even trained to do household chores. They can learn to fetch items, pull a wheelchair, open and close doors, alert for high or low blood sugar, and a long number of other important tasks. Assistance dogs offer hope, dignity, and independence.

Don’t approach working dogs. Leave them alone to do their job. For company owners it is important to know that assistance dogs are allowed to accompany their humans to all places open to the general public – including restaurants and shops. While an assistance dog can wear an identifying vest, this is not a requirement.

To learn more about this week, visit

Service animals and the fair housing act

Despite a plethora of federal and state laws protecting people with service animals, there’s still confusion about rights and obligations. This often leads to discrimination, and disputes between persons with service dogs and everything from landlords to restaurant owners. When it comes to housing, service animals are covered by the Fair Housing Act.

The Fair Housing Act prevents discrimination, and covers persons with disabilities in the sale, rental, or advertising of dwellings. For questions about individual cases, contact your local Housing and Urban Development (HUD) office.

In order to be protected by the Fair Housing Act, a service animal must pass the following three tests:

  1. The person must have a disability.
  2. The animal must serve a function directly related to the disability.
  3. The request to accommodate the service animal must be reasonable.

A disability is defined by the Fair Housing Act as an individual who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, or has a record of an impairment, or is regarded as having an impairment. The disability doesn’t have to be obvious.

The act covers most types of housing, but there are limited exceptions for single family homes sold or rented by an individual owner.

To learn more about this, visit Pet Partners’ page about service animals and housing.

Police dog sniffing out computer hardware

Dogs help law enforcement in many different ways, but few would have predicted the talent golden labrador Thoreau uses in his service to the Rhode Island state police. Thoreau has been taught to sniff out hard drives, flash drives, and other computer components.

This is of value to the police in the fight against child pornography. Storage devices with evidence are small enough to be hidden in places where the officers can’t find them, which allows child pornographer to go free. Thoreau can join in on a search warrant and find object impossible for a human to detect.

Thoreau is new on the job after five months of specialized training, and has already helped secure an arrest warrant. He found a flash drive with child porn stashed deep inside a metal filing cabinet.

The four-legged crime fighter was trained in Connecticut at a program that currently trains over 60 dogs in different types of detection work.

Thoreau is a computer hardware detector dog
Image from providence

Service dog calls 911 and saves owner’s life

Dogs can be taught to perform remarkable feats, something recently proven by Major, a Labrador/Pit Bull mix who works as service dog for a war veteran. When his human suffered a seizure, Major didn’t waste any time. He pulled the phone out of his owner’s pocket and called for help.

The phone is set up for quick dial of 911, and Major could call the number through stepping on the screen. Unfortunately dogs still can’t talk, so he called several times and dispatchers eventually sent help. When medics arrived, Major waited in front of the house.

Major is specially trained to help his owner who suffers PTSD and was injured by a bomb in Afghanistan. To read more about this and see images of Major, visit

Service dogs have access

Service dogs have access to all places open to the public. According to the Americans with Disabilities Act, they are not required to wear a special vest or collar, even though many choose to give service dogs special vests.

Keeping this in mind, it’s not a big surprise that a Walgreens store in North Texas recently made the news when the manager kicked out a war veteran and his service dog. The war veteran showed the dog’s special tag and ID card, but the manager still didn’t accept their presence.

A business can ask if a dog is a service dog and what it is trained to do.

A business cannot ask a service dog and/or owner to leave as long as the dog is behaving.

Many  people depend on dogs trained to do everything from retrieving objects to detecting upcoming seizures, and these dogs make important contribution to their humans’ lives.

If you see a service dog, do not approach, try to pet it, insist that your children get to pet it, or talk to it. The dog is working and doesn’t need distractions.

For more information on service dogs, check out these posts:
Different types of assistance dogs
What is a therapy dog
What is an emotional support dog

Guide dog makes it into middle school’s year book

Hector Gracia Middle School’s yearbook is a little different this year; it features Taxi Benke, a seizure alert service dog.

Image from
Image from

Taxi looks out for his human, 14-year old Rachel, and predicts her epileptic seizures. He attends class with Rachel every day and can sense problems up to an hour and a half before something happens.

Taxi has been with Rachel for the last four years and prevented her from drowning at several occasions. When he senses a seizure coming up, he can alert her family and teachers, and he orients herself to break her fall.


New system might make dogs lifesavers for seniors

Beautiful lying chocolate Havanese dogDogs are sensitive to human emotions, and scientists at the Newcastle University in the UK are working on a system where elderly dog owners could benefit from dogs’ responses to our moods and behavior.

To start with, the team needs to know the dog’s normal behavior, so there’s something to compare to. They have developed a remote-sensing water proof collar that can measure what the dog does and how it acts during a normal day.

Step two is comparing changes in behavior with the baseline. Sudden changes can indicate that something has gone wrong. For example, if the dog no longer walks outdoors like it used to, the owner might have run into to issues with mobility. A sudden increase in anxiety in the dog might mean that there’s something seriously wrong with the owner.

The dogs wouldn’t need any extra training. They only have to wear the collar, and behave like dogs do. The idea is to be able to reassure family and caregivers about an older person’s health without intruding on the person’s privacy. Monitoring the pet is less intrusive than monitoring the person.