I love when people approach me in the lobby and say, “can I pet the Therapy Dog”? The answer is always yes; more than likely, Emma has already approached you and is excitedly sniffing your shins and shoes. Emma LOVES people and that’s not an exaggeration. She loves all people, of all ages. She takes her job seriously and if she can bring a smile to your face, she has earned her wages.
Emma was born in December of 2013. She is half yellow lab and half golden retriever. She was in a litter of 4 females, and I literally had the pick of the litter. I adopted her from PetSmart and was originally prepared to adopt her sister, Cora. When I was placed in the small room with the puppies, it was clear that Emma was “the one”. I knew prior to adoption that I would be training her to be a therapy dog and her temperament was perfect. While her sisters her nipping, barking, at romping around the room, Emma sat peacefully and seemed nonplussed by all the excitement. At eight weeks old, Emma began her journey towards being a therapy dog. She quickly excelled in school and earned her Canine Good Citizen Award.
Pet therapy is a broad term used to describe a goal-directed intervention in which an animal (dog) becomes an agent of the therapeutic process. Additional titles include “Animal Assisted Therapy”, “Animal Enhanced Program” or a “Seeing Heart Dog”. Pet therapy is not synonymous with an Emotional Support Animal (ESA) in which a doctor recommends that a patient obtain a pet to aid the individual with emotional difficulties or loneliness. Furthermore, Emma not a Service Dog, or a Psychiatric Service Dog. Pet therapy utilizes a therapy dog handled by a non-disabled individual with training both in canine behavior and specialized education. In this case…me.
Research has proven that dogs can, and do, lower an individual’s blood pressure. The presence of a dog tends to calm clients. Emma has a comforting effect and tends to disarm patients instantly. Dogs are simple creatures. Emma doesn’t care about your income, the size of your house, or how athletic you are.
The benefits of a dog in the therapeutic setting are limitless. Emma often aids in developing rapport and can serve as a transitional object for a resistant client. She can trigger both positive and negative emotions and memories that can be then processed.
“The presence of an animal adds significant kinesthetic, tactile, auditory, visual, and olfactory stimulation to an environment, and a more alert individual may integrate information to a deeper, more meaningful level.” (Chandler, 2012).
A dog breaks down the emotional barriers that many clients put in place. Emma encourages a level of trust, acceptance, and comfort that only a dog can supply. She offers unconditional love. Simply having a dog in my office changes the temperature in the room. Emma creates warmth and invokes unsolicited smiles.
Common questions I’m asked about Emma…….
So, what does she do when she’s in your office?
Emma is ridiculously happy….the first thing she does while still in the lobby, is tug at her leash as a signal for me to let go of her leash and allow her to gather it in her mouth and walk to my office (I have trained Emma to walk to my office on command). After trotting into the office, she usually wiggles for a few seconds while she gets a dose of love from the client. After I take off her harness (it is restrictive and hard for her to lay down in), she tends to lay on her bed or on the floor.
Depending on the client, Emma remains still on her bed, or she “alerts”. A bomb dog will “alert” when they sniff out a bomb which may take different forms. Emma “alerts” at times when a client experiences a sudden or intense emotion. She will lay on the feet of an anxious client, or lean against their shins to help “ground” them. Emma is able to sense a shift in emotions through a person’s release of pheromones.
Dogs are scent driven; it is their dominant sense. “Dogs smell about 100,000 times better than humans do, and with about 25 times more smell receptors, and with a 40 times larger olfactory complex”. Basically, Emma is able to smell your emotions. Due to my close relationship with Emma, I am able to read her “alerts” and better serve my clients.
What does Emma do when she is at home?
Emma is a simple soul. She loves going for a ride in the car. Every chance I get to take her for a drive, I do. She also loves to lay in front of the door wall and watch the squirrels. She has no interest in catching them; but she will chase them. (If she gets close and nearly catches a squirrel, she stops running so they can get away). She likes to sleep on the couch, in the same spot every time:) Unlike most labs, she doesn’t like tennis balls. However, she loves frisbees. Her favorite activity is swimming. This is one of the only times she becomes obnoxious….she barks, cries, and whines while she anxiously waits for you to throw her water toy (a whole 3 seconds). She would swim all day everyday, if possible. She even gets Swimmer’s Tail every summer. A benign condition in which she sprains her tail from excessive swimming (it goes away quickly though).
Can you train my dog?
No. Sorry, but no.
Can I pet her?
ABSOLUTELY….that’s the point. Emma is here for all of Perspectives guests, not just my clients. She loves to greet people and interact with you. She can hardly stand the excitement of all the people in the lobby. She wants to love each and every one of you.
What if I am afraid of dogs and don’t want Emma around me?
More than likely, Emma won’t venture over to you because she is leashed. That being said, the best thing to do, is avoid eye contact with Emma. She makes an emotional connection with people through eye contact. So if you would prefer that she keeps walking past you, simply avoid her gaze.
The next time you see Emma, pet her and she will return the love ten-fold.
Perspectives Therapy Services is a multi-site mental and relationship health practice with clinic locations in Brighton, Lansing, Highland, Fenton and New Hudson, Michigan. Our clinical teams include experienced, compassionate and creative therapists with backgrounds in psychology, marriage and family therapy, professional counseling, and social work. Our practice prides itself on providing extraordinary care. We offer a customized matching process to prospective clients whereby an intake specialist carefully assesses which of our providers would be the very best fit for the incoming client. We treat a wide range of concerns that impact a person's mental health including depression, anxiety, relationship problems, grief, low self-worth, life transitions, and childhood and adolescent difficulties.