The dog as therapist

24th June 2004, Comments 0 comments

24 June 2004 , HAMBURG - Dogs can be excellent "therapists" and are increasingly being used in old age homes in Germany as bridge builders between the elderly and the outside world. "If there is nobody to talk to and not enough stamina to form new relationships then an animal offers a good possibility," says Ursula Lenz of the German Federal Working Group on the Aged (BAGSO) in Bonn. Elke Schmidt, spokeswoman of a working group on therapy with dogs, says "a good way of reaching out to old people is through

24 June 2004

HAMBURG - Dogs can be excellent "therapists" and are increasingly being used in old age homes in Germany as bridge builders between the elderly and the outside world.

"If there is nobody to talk to and not enough stamina to form new relationships then an animal offers a good possibility," says Ursula Lenz of the German Federal Working Group on the Aged (BAGSO) in Bonn.

Elke Schmidt, spokeswoman of a working group on therapy with dogs, says "a good way of reaching out to old people is through dogs", especially those suffering from dementia.

The therapy is team work on the part of the dog and its owner, creating a relaxed atmosphere.

"Even people who just sit there, who say nothing, staring into the world, start loosening up when a dog comes for a visit. They even start smiling," says Petra Hoffmann of the German federation grouping therapy dogs and the dogs for the handicapped.

The dogs must be trained and "should not be afraid if they are sometimes touched a bit roughly," Hoffmann says. The dog should also have fun.

Elke Schmid says in principle "all dogs which have a friendly nature are suitable" for the therapy. "The chemistry between dog and master should be harmonious and the dog owner should realise when the dog has had enough."

The human side of the therapy has to be well prepared. The home management should agree to the visit. The team has to get used to the patients. "Reliability is important. The people need a regular rhythm. The dog also trusts certain rituals that announce a visit to a home," according to Schmid.

"I have a lovely leash, toy and biscuit. If I take these into my hand my dog is already happy," Petra Hoffmann explains.

The dog is involved in play so that it also has fun. "A ball can be thrown from one place to another. There is much room for fantasy," according to Schmid.

Walks are well liked by all sides. Old people often have too little exercise and a little walk with the dog "can be a real motivating factor", says Ursula Lenz. "It is also an opportunity to get to know people."

But patients that can no longer move also benefit from a visit by the dog. "Old people often have very little body contact. It is enormously important for them to stroke another being," says Lenz.

Heike Behrbohm of the German league of pensioners says that "especially for older people living alone a dog is a partner who stimulates physical and mental activity".

Some old age homes even allow the old people to bring along their pets when they move into the home.

Ursula Lenz points out that "scientific studies have proven that people need a task until high age. Taking care of an animal brings more fun into life".

For the dog owners and their pets, according to Elke Schmid, "the real reward is watching the smiles on the faces of the people".

DPA

Subject: German news

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