The Importance of Therapy Dogs


Therapy dogs are now recognized as an important part of our society. We see them working in tense and troubled environments; like hospitals, nursing homes, and soon Souhegan.

Community council recently passed a proposal to bring therapy dogs in during high stress situations such as AP exams, finals, and school community deaths.  Prior to this proposal, the Souhegan community had no effective and direct ways to cope with high levels of anxiety. Therapy dogs in schools is a positive way to lower the overall stress levels of the student body. Sophia Green played a very important role in the therapy dog proposal, as it was a part of her senior project.

“Bringing therapy dogs into Souhegan is a crucial way for students to deal with the stress and anxiety of high school in a way that we normally aren’t accustomed to. These dogs are here to provide comfort and support to students who are struggling with all aspects of high school. With the help of these dogs, students are able to become more confident in their school work and help ease their anxiety.” – Sophia Green

I was able to see the direct effect on May 18th, when I brought my certified therapy dog to Souhegan. Even though Mabel, my dog, was there for my senior project and not official business, I still saw the powerful effects she had on the community.

Mabel on May 18th, before our presentation.

Seniors had their projects to present, juniors just finished JRPs, sophomores and freshmen were wrapping up the year’s D1. Parents and family members flooded the building, only adding to the overwhelming number of people at Souhegan. As we wavered outside of the main building and annex area, strangers and friends alike excitedly approached Mabel. She was very open to making new friends, meeting with nearly everyone who passed by. I wholeheartedly believe that my experience was a perfect reflection as to what the therapy dog proposal will do for the Souhegan community.

Therapy dog’s go through specialized and specific training in order to provide comfort and love. Therapy animals are very different than an emotional support or service animals, and are often confused. Emotional support animals provide comfort through constant companionship, and service animals endure serious training in order to aid the disability. Both emotional support and service animals typically only work with one person throughout their lifetime. Therapy dogs, on the other hand, can work with more than one person, and are trained to do multiple tasks. These types of working dogs are each very different, and beneficial in different ways.

There are 3 main types of benefits humans can gain from interacting with a therapy dog; physical, emotional and social.

  • Physical– Reduction of blood pressure and heart rate within seconds of meeting. They also can help with pain management and provoke physical interactions.
  • Emotional and mental – Having a dog in the classroom can lighten the mood, creating laughter and starting conversations, promoting stimulation. Therapy dogs can open up a way of communication between two people. Without even knowing it, therapy dogs can establish a friendship or a special bond with a struggling student.
  • Social and cognitive functions – These furry friends can stimulate memory and problem-solving skills.  Therapy dogs can create an unbreakable connection. Whether it’s with an anxious student or distressed teacher, therapy animals can benefit people physically, mentally, socially and cognitively.

Not just any dog can become a therapy dog. Even if you think they’re the best pet in the world, and you want to take them everywhere with you, it may just not be possible. Every animal acts different out in the real world than they do in the comfort of their own home. Sometimes, it’s not just the dog.

The handler  is a big part of how the therapy dog acts. It’s important to have a proactive handler, one that’s trained to know exactly what to do in every situation. The handler has to predict how their dog is going to react every second in every visit. Automatic opening doors, bright lights, loud noises, stairs, and elevators; these are all things the handler must think about in advance before the situation is at hand. You have to be your dog’s best advocate, considering that you’re their only voice.

Mabel last fall, at the start of her training.

Pet Partners, the organization set to be used by Souhegan, and also where Mabel and I are registered. It’s one of the most well-respected therapy dog organizations, with an insurance policy that covers all registered teams of over $2 million. The certification isn’t simply a piece of paper, one to be copied or forged by owners who want to bring their dog with them everywhere. It’s proof of extensive training and knowledge. Fake working dogs take the meaning and importance from the real ones. A forged certificate and vest can be bought online for less than $100. Owners use the well-respected title to live with their dogs in no pets housing or fly with them for free. Over the years, lack of respect has led to the common misconception that all dogs can become working dogs. Making sure the handler and dog are the perfect pair is essential. Sometimes, you may not be the right fit to advocate for your dog, and that’s okay, but don’t forge a therapy dog certification for your own personal gain.

Therapy dogs will soon be making their way into the Souhegan community during high-stress situations. Make sure to keep your eyes open and be on the lookout for some new furry friends.