What is animal assisted therapy or more specifically canine assisted therapy is when a trained dog is deliberately involved in treatments or interventions to improve a person’s well being. In a mental health setting animal-assisted therapy is often used for anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. The benefits of using animals for symptom management can include higher levels of social engagement, fewer panic attacks, increased confidence, reduced loneliness and isolation, improved social skills, reducing drug cravings, dogs sensing a panic attack or flashback, having dogs take a person to a safe place if they are not well, and helping a person get home if they are in danger.
In a physical rehab setting, it has many of the same benefits and when a dog is added to the patients activities, they often forget they are in a medical setting, motivating them to work harder. When I was at the acute rehab facility myself, I couldn’t walk, talk, or even feed myself. When I worked with the dogs, though, I had to be able to speak to tell them what to do, I didn’t mind doing my leg exercises as much, and I had to make sure to eat to be ready for therapy with the dogs. Now I can speak, feed myself, and walk (albeit short distances) with the aid of the walker! I encourage physical and occupational therapists to look into what’s called a facility dog.