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What is a therapy dog? Understanding cynotherapy and canithotherapy

Little known to the general public, cynotherapy is a practice that consists of having a therapy animal intervene with people in difficulty to bring them relief. It is called canitherapy when the mediating animal is a dog. Let's discover together in which fields this animal mediation is mainly used, which are the problems to which cynotherapy benefits the most. Let's also see the numerous benefits of cynotherapy for children and adults who benefit from it.

What is cynotherapy?

Cynotherapy is an animal therapy. This branch of zootherapy involves an animal with a person in a difficult situation to bring him or her some relief. It can be for example a horse, a cat, a dog or many other animals. When a therapy dog is used, the appropriate term is canitherapy.

It is therefore part of personal care and an effective alternative to other solutions. The presence of a therapist is systematic. Thus, the dog always intervenes with a canine therapist and represents a link between the professional and the patient. This is called a triangular relationship.

The people with whom the therapy dog intervenes more specifically are, for example
  • People with disabilities,
  • People with a psychological disorder.
They can be children, adults or elderly people.

Cynotherapy: what about ethics?

The use of a therapy animal implies its unconditional respect. It must not be subjected to any physical or emotional trauma during the interventions. The human therapist accompanied by the animal must always ensure its well-being. The difficulty lies in avoiding situations that can be anxiety-provoking for the animal, especially in structures reserved for the severely mentally handicapped, as patients can be unpredictable in their reaction to the therapist and/or the dog. The animal must be protected by the professional. Also, cynotherapy implies :
  • The respect of the code of ethics,
  • The setting up of an intervention framework aiming at protecting the intervening persons and the mediating animals,
  • A training for all interveners in animal mediation,
  • A selection of animals by an ethologist who must first ensure their ability to intervene in mediation,
  • A specific education of the animals so that they become "therapy animals".
There is no room for chance in cynotherapy.

Canitherapy: when the dog becomes an actor in human healing

In France, the therapy animal is beginning to integrate various structures dedicated to human health, but progress remains to be made so that cynotherapy is as present as in the United States. For the moment, although a few retirement homes and some hospital departments have integrated therapy dogs, this is still far from being the majority.

However, it has been proven that the therapy dog puts a smile on the face of the patient, and each visit is highly beneficial to the patient. Among the many examples of patients for whom the benefits of therapy dogs are measurable, we find for example people followed for :
  • Autism,
  • Alzheimer's disease,
  • Schizophrenia.

The benefits of canine therapy for patients

Canine therapy is more widely used to help children with any type of disability. It has been proven that in young people who suffer from autistic disorder, the therapy dog plays a major role in improving communication and contact between the little patients and other people.

In a broader sense, the benefits of cynotherapy involving the participation of a therapy dog can be seen in the patient of any age a noticeable improvement in:
  • Emotional,
  • Motor,
  • Cognitive.
The link between the patient and the animal breaks the isolation and the withdrawal, pushes the patient to surpass himself because he is more motivated. The intervention of an animal is also very important for the patient to have a better perception of his environment simply because he is more attentive to the presence of the dog, involved in the therapy. The same is true when the animal involved is a horse, a pony, a cat or a bird.

The presence of an animal provides intellectual stimulation and strengthens the bond of attachment. The animal is also a source of sensory contact because it smells, moves, plays, and communicates in its own way (barking in the case of a dog). The interaction is a means of distraction for the patient who, on the other hand, feels more or less responsible for the animal. This last point is very important in the therapy because the person feels useful with the dog and therefore valued.

The therapeutic intervention assisted by the animal - in this case by the dog in the field of canine therapy - brings a plus to the patient, both in terms of physical and psychological health. In this way, the animal represents an alternative to medication.

Therapy dogs: the most popular breeds

Before talking about the most suitable dog breeds to accompany a dog therapist, it is necessary to select each dog with the following specificities:
  • Willing (hardworking),
  • Good character,
  • Calm,
  • Educated,
  • Perfectly socialized,
  • Very attached to his master,
  • Has an excellent relationship with humans.
If we were to name the dog breeds that are the most suitable for cynotherapy, we would find the German Shepherd in the lead, followed by the following breeds: Saint Bernard, Labrador, Golden Retriever, Australian Shepherd and Cavalier King Charles.

We understand that in order to select a therapy dog, the animal must have been trained according to the rules of the art and must not have experienced any trauma during its first years. Indeed, the slightest physical or emotional trauma during the first two years of a dog's life has proven consequences on its future behavior, its character, its perception of human beings. Therefore, no drift should be deplored when the dog is an integral part of this triangular relationship found in cynotherapy, and which unites the therapist, the therapy dog and the patient.