Have you ever seen a therapy dog mingling with people in a hospital, retirement home, airport or on a college campus? Maybe you’ve thought: “I know it helps people, but how do the therapy dogs feel about trying to comfort total strangers all day?”
Good news - a new study in the journal Applied Animal Behavior Science says therapy dogs LOVE their jobs! Researchers came to that conclusion after taking saliva samples from dozens of dogs working in children’s cancer hospitals. The samples helped researchers measure each dog’s stress level before, during, and after their interactions with sick kids - because saliva contains traces of cortisol, the stress hormone. And the result? Not one dog showed a spike in cortisol! In fact, the only thing that increased was each dog’s “friendly behaviors” - including more tail-wagging, and looking TOWARD a child, rather than AWAY from them… which researchers say were obvious signs the dogs were very happy to be there!
So, does this mean all dogs want to be put to work as therapy pets? Not necessarily. That’s according to dog trainer Heather Gillihan, from the nationwide pet training chain, Zoom Room. She says therapy dogs must absolutely LOVE being around people - even total strangers. In fact, that’s one characteristic Gillihan says is “non-negotiable”… Because if your dog tends to be shy, anxious, or jumpy around people, they’ll be significantly harder to train compared to dogs that are naturally friendly and sociable.
If you think YOUR dog has what it takes to become a therapy pet, check out the therapy dog training program offered by the American Kennel Club. Their website is: AKC.org.