Animal-assisted therapy is not a new concept, and even medical experts sometimes recommend that patients with specific conditions opt for certified therapy dog services. There is significant research and data on the subject, and therapy dog organizations provide these specialized services to individuals needing them. However, were you aware that pet therapy dogs could help improve the life quality of children with disabilities?

At K-9 Reading Buddies of the North Shore, we offer dog therapy services for kids with reading disabilities. These children need added motivation to read, and our special program supplements regular literacy programs using qualified handlers with certified therapy dogs to motivate children to read.

How Do Therapeutic Dogs Help?

Therapeutic dogs provide comfort that can help the child’s brain to relax. Having healthy personal relationships with people around boosts brain function. Similarly, when you opt for a therapy dog for your child, the dog’s presence can positively affect the neurotransmitters that the brain releases. There are several benefits to opting for this therapy, such as:

  • Oxytocin (the cuddle hormone) helps soothe and calm the nervous system, improving the child’s cognitive function.
  • Therapy dogs can also help control the amount of cortisol the body releases, which reduces stress levels, allowing the body to focus on various tasks better.
  • Animals from a certified therapy dog association are affectionate and friendly, and being in their company can prove therapeutic and enjoyable for kids.

Are Therapy Dogs Service Animals?

Many people wonder whether service animals and therapy dogs are the same and serve a similar purpose.  Service dogs assist individuals with disabilities, but therapeutic dog training is very different from service dog training.

A service animal is specifically trained to perform various tasks for a person with a disability. When this person has a service dog, it helps them become more independent. For example, someone who is blind would travel independently with a Seeing Eye dog leading the way.

The person will be able to move around where they like without a person assisting them. A kid in a wheelchair can get their service dog to pick up dropped items without asking an adult to do this for them.

Which Kids Can Benefit From Certified Therapy Dog Services?

Dog therapy is helpful for kids with mental, physical, and emotional disabilities. Because it provides a wide range of benefits, animal-assisted therapy is used in conjunction with various other treatments and therapies. It has proven benefits for kids with conditions including:

  • Behavioral disorders
  • Cerebral palsy
  • Autism spectrum disorder
  • Muscular dystrophy
  • Developmental or intellectual disabilities
  • Traumatic brain injuries
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder

How Can A Certified Therapy Dog Help A Child With Learning Disabilities?

When a kid struggles with learning, activities like reading and writing don’t come naturally to them. This hurdle can frustrate and stress them, further hampering their ability to perform these regular activities.

However, as mentioned earlier, therapeutic dogs can soothe kids and have a calming effect on them. With regular dog therapy sessions, the child begins to feel less stressed and more relaxed. Dog therapy can help kids with learning disabilities in several ways, such as:

  • When kids with cerebral palsy or similar neurological conditions groom or pet a dog, it helps them build hand and limb dexterity and strength.
  • Studies show that kids on the autism spectrum can benefit significantly from their time with a therapy dog.
  • A therapy dog’s simple communication methods, fondness for rules and routine, and calm presence produce positive results in helping kids with autism communicate and relax better.

What Are The Benefits Of Pet Therapy Dogs For Children?

There is a wide range of physical, emotional, and mental benefits of dog therapy for children. Bringing animals into the mix helps create therapeutic bonds that sometimes adult therapists and parents can’t build with children. Let’s take a closer look at how kids can benefit from sessions with therapy dogs: 

1. The Physical Benefits

There are several physical benefits to opting for dog therapy, such as:

  • Improve cardiovascular health
  • Hone kids’ fine motor skills
  • Reduce blood pressure
  • Improve assisted/independent movement
  • Alleviate/reduce pain
  • Increase levels of activity
  • Improve joint movement
  • Expedite the recovery time from procedures/surgeries

2. The Emotional Benefits

Animal-assisted therapy focuses on both the child and the dog’s actions, helping to reduce the former’s self-consciousness. This approach allows the kids to enjoy the full benefits of therapy. Animal-assisted therapy can also:

  • Reduce stress
  • Enhance self-confidence and self-esteem
  • Increase nurturing, empathy, and compassion
  • Promote emotional stability
  • Enhance trust and bonding
  • Reduce feelings of loneliness or isolation and anxiety
  • Increase feelings of hope, security, and happiness
  • Reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression

 3. The Mental Benefits

Children with disabilities tend to feel isolated. Because society perceives them to be “different,” the presence of a therapy dog can help reduce these feelings of isolation, helping kids with disabilities relate to others in a better way.

Therapy dogs attract other individuals, providing opportunities for children with disabilities to develop their social skills. Unlike service dogs (that you can’t distract while working), therapy dogs can interact with other people. Animal-assisted therapy for kids can:

  • Facilitate social and personal development
  • Improve non-verbal and verbal communication skills
  • Help children respect personal space and set boundaries
  • Demonstrate how to be more responsible for one’s actions
  • Enhance organizational and planning skills
  • Improve levels of motivation, interest, and focus
  • Learn to give commands which helps improve problem-solving skills
  • Reduce symptoms of autism, ADHD, and PTSD

As you can see, there are several benefits to animal-assisted therapy. Credible therapy dog organizations have certified therapy dogs for these sessions. The experts at these organizations can work with parents and caretakers of children with disabilities to create the best therapy puppy programs to help the child become more confident.

For information on services that we at K-9 Reading Buddies of the North Shore provide, send us an email through this form. One of our team members will contact you shortly to discuss the details of our certified therapy dog programs for children with reading disabilities.