Facility/Therapy Dogs

What Are Facility Dogs?

Facility dogs are exceptionally well-trained working dogs partnered with a professional in a health care, therapeutic, educational, rehabilitation or residential setting. These skilled canines serve as a tool and a source of motivation for the clients, students, residents or patients, and they also provide unconditional love, acceptance and moral/emotional support. Facility dogs greatly enhance quality of life within their respective facility, and with customized task training suited for their specific environment, their usefulness increases exponentially.

What Do Facility Dogs Do?

Our facility dogs partnered with a physical, occupational or rehabilitation therapist are custom trained to support the efforts of the therapists to meet the unique needs of a person’s recovery program.  These Lifelines usually have 10-15+ tasks they can perform with clients. The dogs are utilized in specific, partnered exercises designed to help the patient work on their treatment goals. An example may be catching a small ball tossed to them from a short distance away and returning it to the person’s hand. By utilizing their trained tasks, infinite patience and gentle, encouraging spirit, the facility dogs encourage patients to work on fine motor skills, range of motion, balance, and interactive skills in an entertaining, captivating way the therapist could never replicate.

Lifeline facility dogs partnered at other facilities (which could include, but not be limited to, libraries, psychiatric treatment units, group/residential homes, camps, counseling or therapy offices, treatment centers, special education teams, long term care facilities or schools) are also highly skilled, exceptionally well trained professionals that help improve morale, lift spirits and provide emotional support. Many are task trained to offer anxiety relief or grounding during private or group therapy, sensory meltdowns or panic attacks, and quite a few can serve as messengers between rooms or areas of the facility, carry items, or respond to an emergency situation.

Others offer bracing, counter balance or fall support and others serve as a source of entertainment or incentive to be social or active. Some are a means to practice verbal expression, communication, reading or speech, and some are utilized in role play or learning games. Every facility dog is tailored to the working environment and the unique challenges they’ll face, as well as to the needs of the professional partner.

What Are The Benefits of Facility Dogs?

Reluctant, depressed, unaccommodating or slowly recovering clients can be oftentimes be coaxed into being more engaged and cooperative when the facility dog is involved. They can refine motor skills and be more active by taking the dog’s collar on and off, walking with the dog, petting or brushing the dog, cueing tricks via full-body signals (like a bow or squat) or any one of an unquantifiable number of tasks.

The facility dog can encourage physical movement, help build verbal and nonverbal communication skills, improve group and social behavior, and assist with practicing conversation or speech. In a nutshell, facility dogs work to enhance physical, mental and emotional well-being while inspiring patients to work harder. Why do they work harder? Because they either enjoy working with the facility dog, or they think they are in some way helping the dog! It’s win-win.

Professionals who utilize a facility dog report significant increases in client, resident, student and patient enthusiasm, performance, comfort levels and outlook. Beyond the task training itself, though, the pups provide advantages and benefits that just can’t be obtained via any other means. They:

  1. Lend a compassionate, non-judgemental, listening ear.
  2. Provide patient, calm, gentle, everlasting friendship regardless of looks, health, physical or mental ability/development, age, gender, sex, social skills, creed, religion, confidence, etc.
  3. Reduce anxiety, stress, sensory symptoms, boredom, behavioral difficulties, panic attacks and emotional outbursts.
  4. Serve as an overflowing supply of happiness. Even during the darkest and most challenging moments, a facility dog’s tail still wags, their eyes still sparkle, and they’re still exploding with joy simply because they’re alive and in the same room as you and your patient.
  5. Improve overall climate and ambience in the facility. When your staff, visitors, clients, patients, residents and students want to be there, the mood lifts. When they look forward to working, sessions oftentimes are not only productive, but also enjoyable.

Where Do Facility Dogs Work?

Below, we list a few of the many professions, institutions and settings that can benefit from partnering with a facility dog. Don’t despair if you don’t see yours listed; what’s presented is by no means comprehensive.  Each and every Lifeline facility dog is custom selected, trained and tailored specifically for your needs and your facility’s needs. Our dogs possess rock solid temperaments, unshakeable obedience and reliable performance under high levels of stress and distraction. Lifelines are immensely skilled professionals, and with the right human partner, they can work magic.

Libraries

Library dogs offer moral support, a non-judgemental listening ear, and encouragement for children who are learning to read and/or practicing their reading skills. Reading to the library dog is a highly motivating incentive to read more often, and because the kids don't fear the dog correcting them or laughing at mistakes, they'll often attempt more difficult books, especially if they're told the dog enjoys it! Children who participate in reading dog programs are not only happier, more confident readers, but they're more frequent readers, too!

Occupational Therapists

From helping teach personal care or grooming chores to assisting with sensory therapy to helping build fine or gross motor skills, a facility dog in an occupational therapy setting opens a whole new realm of possibilities. Feeding a dog kibble from a spoon is more entertaining than moving marbles around, and offering variously textured balls to the dog is more fun than traditional sensory therapy. The dog itself capture's a patient's interest, and with the facility dog along, therapy becomes play instead of work.

Counselors/Social Workers

Counseling can be challenging under the best of circumstances, and under the worst, it's highly stressful. Utilizing a facility dog can help reduce anxiety, build rapport, facilitate more open communication, and help ground clients with PTSD, behavioral, or sensory issues. The emotional support and physical contact of the working dog can also provide the comfort and courage necessary to delve into topics that otherwise would be too painful.

Physical Therapists

Facility dogs make therapy more engaging and rewarding. Brushing the dog is far more amusing than rubbing circles on a wall, and practicing gross motor skills by walking the dog is infinitely more enjoyable than dull treks down the hallway with an adult. Facility dogs can be trained to offer balance and brace support, help with push/pull therapy via a specially designed tug toy, or otherwise directly assist in exercises. Many clients try significantly harder to meet goals while working with a canine partner - we've seen miracles happen, like stroke victims moving their hand for the first time to pet the dog! When it comes to how a facility dog can help you in physical therapy settings, the sky is the limit. If you can dream the task up, we can train it. If you aren't sure if something is possible or how it would work, ask anyways. We love a challenge!

Special Education Teams

Encompassing everything from developmental, intellectual, and physical disabilities to behavioral struggles, learning disabilities and gifted programs, the world of special education is exceptionally diverse. All are educational programs serving children or teens with special needs, but outside of that, few definitive similarities exist. The challenges, requirements, common problems, types of needs, training of staff, resources and other factors can vary widely, but one thing is for sure: in such a care-focused, results-oriented and oftentimes therapeutic environment, a facility dog could come in handy. Check out some of the other facility blurbs, and find one or two that overlap with your particular program's offerings to see how a facility dog could best serve you.

Hospitals

It's a fact of life: people in hospitals are sick. It's another (scientifically proven) fact of life that dogs improve mental outlook, decrease blood pressure, trigger the release of endorphins and immune boosters and make people feel happy. All of those positive effects are huge benefits, and that's just from a dog being present! When you start to consider trained task work for your rehabilitation, recovery, psychiatric, pediatric or therapeutic units, crisis response training for use during emergencies, in disasters or after deaths, and specialized training for surgical, N/ICU, or trauma waiting rooms, it's a no brainer: facility dogs belong in hospitals. Glance over some of the other facility blurbs to see more facility dog tasks that can enhance various departments within your hospital.