Ask Sue Halpern Anything: Training A Therapy Dog

Yesterday, the author pointed out how surprisingly fun it was to spend time in a nursing home with her therapy dog, Pransky. In today’s video, Sue talks about what made her want to train her Labradoodle as a therapy dog and what that training entailed:

Sue and her Labradoodle’s experiences with the elderly is the basis for A Dog Walks Into a Nursing Home: Lessons in the Good Life from an Unlikely Teacher. On a related note, Stanley Coren recently explained that even though Freud had the equivalent of a therapy dog present for many of his psychotherapy sessions, the practice of dog therapy wasn’t taken very seriously until research bore out the benefits:

The ultimate validation of animal assisted therapy would come from psychologist Alan Beck and psychiatrist Aaron Katcher. They used direct physiological measures to show that when a person interacted with, or even was simply in the presence of, a friendly dog, there were immediate changes in their physiological responses. Breathing became more regular, heart beat slowed, muscles relaxed and there were other physiological changes suggesting a lowering of sympathetic nervous system activity. Since it is the sympathetic nervous system which responds to stress, this indicated that the dog was clearly reducing the stress levels of the people in its presence. … Since they could now see the direct effects that pets were having on the physiological indexes of stress, the notions associated with animal assisted therapy became much more acceptable. This is evidenced by the fact that the number of pet assisted therapy programs was under twenty in 1980, but by the year 2000 over one thousand such programs were in operation.

Ask Anything archive here.