When therapy dogs work often they work better.
The value of having a regular, ongoing, consistent assignment is huge. The handler gets to become familiar with the surroundings and the clients, as does the dog. The dog is not always meeting new people and experiencing new smells and sounds. The clients become known to the team and they can predict how the client will react to the dog and visa versa.
One of the key benefits of having a consistent assignment is the bond that develops between the team and clients. The dog will know what to expect and come to feel comfortable. And will look forward to these visits as he is greeting old friends. And of course there will always be favorites, although as professional volunteers, we do not let this color our visits.
You will start to see who your dog gravitates towards naturally and often it is the person the dog knows needs them the most.
Consistency also benefits the clients as often the therapy team is their only visitor. This is especially the case in long-term care facilities, dementia care and skilled nursing. The therapy teams bring life and laughter and communication into their lives.
And never underestimate the power of touch.
Often the clients are rarely touched other than for medical procedures. Petting the animal and having a soft touch can mean the world.
Familiarity in dementia care has many other benefits as well. Often the clients do not remember names of people, present or in the past. But they often remember the dogs they meet. We have often heard “Kirby’s here” from clients who do not remember my name, or even their own.
We have even heard “It’s Monday because Lucy is here.”
When shown the photos of the dogs they can often attach the correct name and this prompts sense memory.
So for everyone involved working your therapy dog on a regular basis, be it once a week or more, and returning to the same assignment, is a win-win for everyone.