How can your dog become a therapy dog?


Psychiatric Service Dogs (PSD) change lives but so can your dog by becoming a therapy dog.  There are many jobs a well trained family dog can perform that will help raise awareness of the importance of service dogs in general and Psychiatric Service Dogs in particular.  In addition to the basic training described below for therapy dogs a PSD requires specialized training to perform the specific duties required by their handlers. This can take many many months to complete.

Therapy dogs are trained to be good canine citizens as well as how to handle themselves in many situations.  Not everyone gets to see a PSD in action but, in many places, everyday people can see how therapy dogs relax and sooth those around them even in some of the most stressful situations, fostering a broader understanding of how dogs may help and in some cases heal those with mental illness.

therapy dog nteracting with the public“A therapy dog is someone’s pet that is highly trained, can be easily controlled around other dogs, is very social and enjoys interacting with all ages and types of people and has been tested and certified through a recognized therapy dog organization.”

That’s quite a mouthful but it’s not good enough to just have a sweet easy going dog. You must be able to trust how he/she will react in almost any situation. Dogs and other therapy animals can make a world of difference in nursing homes, classrooms (read to a dog), family shelters and other places where people find themselves in need of a soothing presence.

If you’d like to give it a try, read this article for more information and resources.


Psychiatric Service Dogs Transforming Lives

Excerpt from the book, “Healing Companions: Ordinary Dogs And Their Extraordinary Power To Transform Lives,” by Jane Miller – Introduction: How the Healing Journey Began

Jane Miller with her babiesSeveral years ago I discovered something powerful about the dogs who share many of our lives. While all dogs provide love, comfort, joy, and support, for some people, dogs actually have the ability to transform lives. Although I have been in clinical practice as a therapist for years, this isn’t something I learned through professional training. The catalyst was a tiny furball named Umaya who came home with me on Christmas Eve. Here’s how our journey began…

In our fast-paced world, doctors are often quick to advise patients suffering from traumatic stress, depression, anxiety, and other emotional and psychological problems that their ills can be solved through the use of one medication or another. Too many people think the pill itself is a “magic bullet” that will make their lives happier, easier, and more secure. It isn’t. Medications must be taken under careful supervision, and many anti-depressant drugs carry the risk of negative side effects, including in extreme cases suicidal tendencies. While many individuals do require medication, which has helped countless people, there are other pill-free choices that are extremely beneficial and may not have been considered. For many people one choice that they may have never heard of, either by itself or in combination with drug therapy and psychotherapy, might make all the difference.

Service Dogs have been assisting the blind, the hearing-impaired, and those in wheelchairs and with other disabilities for a long time. There are also Therapy Dogs who help enhance quality of life for many people by visiting hospitals, nursing homes, and other institutions providing comfort and support. Umaya’s strength and calming influence were a revelation to me, and when I saw the way that my clients responded to her, I began to realize that having a dog could have a profound impact on some of my clients’ lives.

This is not just the story of our journey, however; it’s a window onto the world of Psychiatric Service Dogs for people with invisible disabilities, showing how the dogs can change and enhance the lives of their human companions. In the following chapters, we’ll meet some of these amazing dogs and see how they have helped a number of individuals improve their lives in profound and unexpected ways, allowing them to gain self-esteem, self-confidence, assertiveness, and so much more. These dogs provide emotional support, as all dogs do, but they are specifically trained to perform certain tasks unique to the individual’s needs. Through the stories of these dogs, I hope to show how you, a friend, or a family member how they might benefit from such a healing companion.

In addition to these remarkable stories, this book will also explain which dogs are the right candidates for the job, which dogs are not, and how to tell the difference. Here’s a hint: it has nothing to do with the dog’s breed. Mixed breed dogs are very well suited to assist those with invisible disabilities. These dogs can be in-home companions or full-time Service Dogs who also accompany their companions out in public and to work. I’ll discuss how these dogs are trained, how the dog may impact other members of the family, and how to make life more comfortable and less stressful for the dogs while they are undertaking their essential tasks. I’ll also provide a helpful list of resources for further information, support, and services.

For anyone who may not know about the profound benefits that these service dogs may bring, as well as for anyone who loves dogs and enjoys learning more about their value to their companions, I hope this book will serve as an informative, practical, and inspirational guide.

Umaya started me on this extraordinary path. Now, share the journey of my clients and others who have opened their hearts to a service dog and found a healing beyond their expectations.

To learn more join us in our journey: Healing Companions’ benefit to our community is three-fold: a shelter dog’s life is saved; the trained psychiatric service dog provides a friend, family member, or neighbor who has mental illness with assistance that promotes a higher level of functioning and participation in society; and the inmate who has trained the dog gains both job skills and “soft skills” that help them obtain jobs and contribute to their communities upon release.

Click Here for a video about our organization.


Dogs Have Issues Too – Recorded Presentation

Dogs Have Issues Too: Helping Dogs Cope With Stress

Speaker: Jane Miller, LISW, CDBC, AABP-CDBT

Provided as a recording.

CEU’s Available:
NOTE: Both the Live and the Recording are approved for the same amount of CEUs.

Cost: $25.00

CLICK HERE to sign up.

This webinar presentation is a very brief overview/introduction to helping dogs cope with stress. Jane Miller provides a number of stress reduction/relaxation techniques along with monitoring methods.  This is a basic introduction to stress reduction/relaxation techniques covering the definition of stress, eustress and distress. We will not be focusing on the brain’s role in this first introduction to stress.

The stress reduction techniques that are discussed include breathing, acupressure points, TTouch, canine massotherapy, reiki, meditation, and biofeedback etc.  The monitoring methods of stress are addressed. These include, stress signs/body language, cortisol levels from saliva, urine and hair, heart rate and variable heart rates, breathing rates, pulse, vagal tone, biofeedback, and MRIs. Some are controversial in that they are costly and invasive and may cause stress levels to increase by the testing itself.

You’ll learn:

  • What is meant by good stress eustress vs. bad stress distress
  • Various stress reduction techniques to add to your toolbox since different methods work for different dogs…one size does not fit all
  • An introduction  to breathing techniques, acupressure points, TTouch, canine massotherapy,
  • How to apply this knowledge and monitoring techniques
  • Methods of monitoring heart rate,pulse, breathing rate,  cortisol levels, biofeedback MRIs  and the pros and cons of these techniques.

Resources: An extensive list of videos, links, references, articles, websites, diagrams, etc. will be provided.

A question and answer session will follow this dogs and animal welfare webinar that will be moderated by Dr. Cheryl Aguiar



Does your dog pull too hard on the leash? Consider a harness.

Front Facing HarnessDo you feel like you are walking a snowplow, or small horse? Training a dog for polite leash-walking can take a long while. In the meantime, a good front-facing harness can alleviate pressure on your dog’s neck area, make it easier to turn your dog’s front back towards you, and ensure that Fido does not drag you into a bush.

To learn more about the best (and worst) harnesses on the market, Click Here


25 Things You Probably Didn’t Know About Dogs

This is a terrific article by Hal Herzog, Ph.D., published in Psychology Today. Dr. Herzog is professor emeritus of psychology at Western Carolina University and author of Some We Love, Some We Hate, Some We Eat: Why It’s So Hard To Think Straight About Animals.

Dr. Herzog discusses the 25 new things he learned about dogs while reading The Domestic Dog: It’s Evolution, Behavior and Interactions with People.  The book is edited by James Serpell, a pioneer in the field of Anthrozoology and a compendium of 20 chapters written by a who’s who of canine researchers.

Click here to read the full article!

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