Most of us are familiar with the role of a guide dog in assisting those with vision or hearing impairments or physical disabilities. You may also be familiar with the role of a companion or therapy pet or dog in providing emotional support for those with mental illness. Dogs are known as “man’s best friends,” but for some, this saying runs deeper in meaning. For some children and adults with physical and mental disabilities, dog ownership can be the difference between loneliness and happiness.
How and why does dog ownership create such a positive impact on the lives of the physically and mentally disabled? What are the benefits of having a guide dog or companion pet, and what kind of training should you seek for your new friend?
It seems that owners of dogs become so close to their pets, because dogs are always happy and open to our love. They are truly the ideal friend, because they quietly and nonjudgmentally listen to everything we have to say. Not to mention, they are intelligent. They respond to their names, recognize their human family and friends (and enemies) and learn tricks and proper behaviors. They can also be trained to protect your family and assist those with physical disabilities (guide dog). All these things make a dog seem very human, making it natural for us to connect with them in a human way.
This almost humanlike friendship can bring so much positivity into the life of someone with special needs. Whether it be because of limited mobility (making it hard to leave their homes) or mental illness (making it difficult to carry a conversation or understand another human being), owning a pet can give someone with a physical disability the friendship they always wanted.
There are a multitude of benefits to owning a guide dog or companion pet. The benefits for owning a guide dog are very obvious in that they assist their owners with everyday tasks, like opening doors, turning lights on and off, retrieving dropped items, guiding the blind, notifying the hearing impaired of a knock on the door, etc. The list is really endless, as a dog can be trained to do pretty much anything that is within their physical capabilities.
The benefits of owning a dog for emotional/companion reasons are more personal in nature. However, studies have shown that owning a pet for therapeutic reasons can decrease your blood pressure and ease feelings of loneliness. It has also been noted that owning and taking care of a dog can produce a feeling of pride in those with low self-esteem. It seems that having the ability to take care of a pet increases feelings of self-worth. Also, those who own pets tend to be more physically active, because they take their pets for walks or play games with them. In general, owning a pet brings simple happiness into people’s lives.
It is important to note, however, that in order to become a guide dog, your pet must undergo extensive training courses and pass a test. Companion dogs should also be taken to a behavior school in order to decrease any chances of bad or dangerous behavior. To locate a guide or companion dog training course in your community, search “dog training” on Google.
Guest post by Denise Keene
All Photos: Cheezburger.com
Denise Keene has been a Special Education teacher for 15 years and likes to write articles about various related topics. She also owns the site Masters In Special Education.
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