Therapy Dogs: Your Furry Companions

Deadlines. Papers. Exams. Stress. 

What to do? Someone is here to help ― the canines.

Therapy dogs are becoming popular on campus. 

Pawprints Everywhere

At HKU, we have a resident therapy dog named Jasper who visits our lectures and libraries. In addition to being surprised by his appearances on University Street and in Common Core courses, we even get the chance to interact with him at pre-booked sessions. Such enlivening experiences are one of a kind.

As an animal-assisted intervention, dog therapy brings psychological and physical health benefits and raises awareness of animal welfare. In Hong Kong, organisations such as Doctor Pet and Hong Kong Institute of Animal Assisted Intervention dedicate their efforts to the promotion and delivery of dog therapy.

About Therapy Dogs

Pets are domesticated animals, but therapy dogs are more than that, given the stringent requirements that need to be met. Apart from the need for vaccination and sterilisation, therapy dogs must be trained to pass the temperament assessment and screening exercise. They must be well-mannered, obedient, and react calmly to disturbing stimuli, like a sudden shriek or a pungent smell. Accredited handlers would be in charge of the leash and provide signals to elicit a proper response from therapy dogs. 

Improving Emotional Functioning

Therapy dogs could be your best comrades when completing assignments and giving presentations, for their companionship could keep you away from alienation and solitary. They could lend you a listening ear so you can express your worries freely (and, of course, appropriately ― you wouldn’t displace your anger by kicking them). Their unconditional love and unwavering support make you realise that you are not alone, therefore reducing loneliness and anxiety, especially during the exam period.

Interacting with therapy dogs provides opportunities for socialising as you will mingle with dog handlers. From a local study, dog therapy is conducive to initiating pro-social behaviours and eliminating social anxiety among socially withdrawn youth. It favours the development of self-confidence and interpersonal skills by raising their willingness to engage in active lifestyles. This is why inviting exchanges with the dog and its handler builds stronger social ties. 

Students with special educational needs (SEN) from visual impairment to mental illness receive bountiful benefits as well. Through reciprocal relationships, they showed improved dexterity, empathy and team spirit after dog therapy sessions at a rehabilitation centre.

School Settings

Introducing therapy dogs not only provides emotional support to students and staff members but also brings positivity into the classroom. Researchers found that dog therapy reduces cortisol (a stress hormone) and boosts oxytocin (the love hormone for social bonding). Imagine catching sight of a therapy dog with keen eyes and a wagging tail leaning by your side. You’d probably have more motivation to keep going, rather than give up. The effects of fatigue relief can raise your productivity. 

Therapy dogs also play a role in facilitating adjustment to life transitions, such as going to university. As freshmen, you have to meet new people and explore ways to grow accustomed to new routines, from arranging timetables and applying halls, to becoming an ex-co (or 上莊) and finding part-time jobs. Having a reassuring companion like a therapy dog can keep you more at ease in the face of uncertainties and challenges.

Animal Welfare

It is not uncommon to see stray dogs maltreated, leaving them unhealed wounds and scorching scars. Dog therapy organisations provide training opportunities to dogs regardless of breed and disability, as long as they meet basic requirements. Empowering stray dogs into healers promotes respect for life and defends animal rights. 

Furry Companions

A quote from the Peanuts Movie best sums up our furry companions,

“A dog doesn’t try to give advice, or judge you; they just love you for who you are. It’s nice to have someone who will just sit and listen to you.”

Do you know?

Therapy dogs differ from service dogs, such as guide dogs. Service dogs have legal status in entering public areas and perform tasks of persons with disabilities, while therapy dogs do not have such privilege and serve a wider range of targets from kids to the elderly.

Together, they join paws to build an inclusive community.

Editor’s note: Spending time with the therapy dogs is a good way to cope with stress and emotional snapping. Check this page out for more ways of easing stress.