Dogs can bark and alarm their masters of suspicious strangers and they can even fetch items you instruct them to get. Some specifically trained dogs can even help in solving crimes – thus the existence of canine units in police departments around the world. But those are not the only things dogs are capable of, dogs can do much more than that and it comes naturally for them – introducing the “therapy dogs”.
Started in World War II
The history of therapy dogs goes way back in World War II when Corporal William Wynne found a dog in the middle of combat during the Japanese encounter in New Guinea. The corporal named the dog Smoky which he always brought to entertain and accompany him and his troops.
But Smoky’s role as the distinguished pet for the troops became more significant when Wynne was hospitalized. His attachment to the dog leads his men to take Smoky for a regular visit at the hospital. However, the dog’s constant visit didn’t just cheer Wynne up, the other wounded and ill soldiers were also motivated and inspired by Smoky. Soon, Smoky was allowed to accompany medical practitioners around the hospital and during these rounds, the dog became a source of hope for the patients. Smoky was the very first recorded therapy dog in history, she continued that job for 12 years since then.
Therapy Dog in Catastrophic Events
Therapy dogs are generally dogs who are assigned to provide love, compassion and care for human beings in different circumstances. However, they are not necessarily service dogs who do certain tasks – their only task is to give love to people to alleviate pain, sadness and even to provide motivation and salvation.
These dogs were believed to help even children with speech and learning difficulties to improve their state. But one notable incident which proved how effective therapy dogs were was during the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Connecticut, USA last December 2012. At the tragic shootout where many children and teenagers were injured and perished, most witnesses especially the younger ones were traumatized to speechlessness and shock.
In order to relieve the stress and shock, Lutheran Church Charities (LCC) K9 Comfort Dogs based in Illinois took several of their trained retrievers to become therapy dogs. Soon, witnesses were able to speak up and share their experience, the dogs became their constant companion as they retell their stories. LCC K9 leader Tim Hetzner anticipated such outcome, "They're kind of like counselors with fur. They have excellent listening skills, and they demonstrate unconditional love. They don't judge you or talk back,” he says.
Therapy Dogs - Medically Recommended
But why are dogs, effective counselors and therapists? It is because according to studies unlike other animals, dogs are generally social animals that do not possess xenophobia – or the fear of strangers. According to Brian Hare, director of Duke University's Canine Cognition Center, dogs are actually fond of strangers, most of the time they are much friendlier than human beings. And when humans encounter such welcoming nature, it triggers release of hormones such as oxytocin (hormones which promotes bonding and attachment) and even dopamine (a motivating hormone).
Debbie Custance, a psychologist at Goldsmiths College, University of London, based on research and some studies, dogs do exhibit empathy towards people. Although there aren’t too many evidences to strongly support the claim, the study provides a path for further studies.
"When humans show us affection, it's quite a complicated thing that involves expectations and judgments … but with a dog, it's a very uncomplicated, non-challenging interaction with no consequences. And if you've been through a hard time, it's lovely to have that,” she further explains.