Therapy dogs are used by medical and mental health care volunteers and professionals to assist in therapy to the physically and mentally distressed. This is not a "sport" or recreational activity, but an important human service function. Persons with many varieties and degrees of physical and mental problems, from aged and bored nursing home residents, to the depressed, to the psychotic; sometimes can be comforted or stimulated better by a dog than by human health care providers alone.
The dogs may be employed as "door-openers," or directly assist patient therapy. Even though Belgian Tervuren are characteristically aloof in their temperament, they often display an insight and respond more affectionately to disturbed persons than they do to "normal" persons.
Certified Therapy Dogs are handled by lay volunteers to provide comfort and stimulation to the very young, very old, and very ill.
Another effective program that uses Tervs is the Reading assistance dogs.
Several charitable organizations train, test and certify dogs for therapy and certain other service work. These include Therapy Dogs, Inc., Therapy Dogs International, Inc. and Delta Society. Visit their web sites for more information.
Animal-assisted activities are basically the casual "meet and greet" activities that involve pets visiting people. The same activity can be repeated with many people, unlike a therapy program that is tailored to a particular person with their physical or medical condition.
Animal-assisted therapy ("AAT") is a goal-directed intervention in which an animal that meets specific criteria is an integral part of the treatment process. AAT is directed and/or delivered by a health/human service professional with specialized expertise, and within the scope of practice of his/her profession.
AAT is designed to promote improvement in human physical, social, emotional, and/or cognitive functioning [cognitive functioning refers to thinking and intellectual skills]. AAT is provided in a variety of settings and may be group or individual in nature. This process is documented and evaluated." (From )
Examples of AAT goals:
- Improve fine motor skills
- Improve wheelchari skills
- Improve standing balance
- increase verbal interactions between group members.
- Increase attention skills (i.e. paying attention, staying on task).
- Develop leisure/recreation skills.
- Increase self-esteem.
- Reduce anxiety.
- Reduce loneliness.
- Increase vocabulary.
- Aid in long- or short-term memory
- Improve knowledge of concepts such as size, color, etc.
- Improve willingness to be involved in a group activity.
- Improve interactions with others.
- Improve interactions with staff.
- Increase exercise
... provide assistance to humans having some physical handicap, such as impairments in sight, hearing, or mobility. This is a very different function than therapy. Persons accompanied by service dogs have legal rights to have their dogs with them in substantially any location - overriding posted prohibitions. Tervs are less often used than certainother breeds in these other functions. Dogs serving in search and rescue, detection of prohibited materials, and police and military service also are considered service dogs and generally have privileged access rights with their handlers.
Guide Dogs for the Blind are one of the most familiar service dog assignments. See the International Guide Dog Federation website for comprehensive information and links. In the USA, most Seeing Eye and Leader Dogs are bred by the provider organizations specifically for the purpose of service to sight-impaired persons. Tervs are not one of the breeds included by these organizations.
Neither are Tervs quite big and powerful enough to be Helper Dogs to the physically handicapped. Helper Dogs are sometimes needed to assist with pulling wheel chairs over curbs and other obstacles.
Tervs occasionally are used as Hearing Dogs for the deaf.
Dogs have been successfully trained to recognize and warn care-givers and medical personnel of impending seizures and, at an experimental level, certain diseases, including certain cancers. We are not aware of Tervs serving yet in such functions, but their trainability, intelligence, and scenting ability would make them suitable candidates.
Also read our page regarding Search and Rescue dogs - another type of service where Tervs excel.