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Many ways dogs can be helpful

By HELEN PALMER

K9 Corner

My little adopted dog has noticed that I have a hard time hearing the telephone when it is in the back of the house and I am in the front. He has taken the job of phone alerter and barks and howls whenever it rings, except when I am sleeping. Then he whimpers and whines very softly to see if I will wake up and answer the call.

I have a couple of friends who call me so they can hear my dog performing his volunteer job. If he continues to bark after I pick up, they just laugh and laugh — they think it so cute; I think it is pretty neat too! 

My dog is not a trained therapy dog, but he is a delight to have around. He made me think of the many ways dogs (and other pets) can assist the physically challenged at home.  

A number of years ago, I studied the ways Physical Therapy Clinics utilized dogs in their programs. If the patient had a problem with range of motion, he was encouraged to brush or comb one of the resident therapy dogs. Sometimes the animal selected was short haired making it easy to run the brush over the coat with long, sweeping strokes. More challenging were the medium length, rough-coated dogs and the double coated dogs gave those patients real exercise as they had to part the fur and hold it back with one hand while brushing or combing a small section.

Other patients needed to exercise their shoulders and retrievers were used as the patients tossed balls; first with one hand and then the other until the timer signaled the end of the session.

Those needing to strengthen their fingers were given sanitized quarters (dimes for the toy breeds) and taught how to scrape tartar off the teeth of these trained therapy dogs.

Certified therapy dogs are trained to sit still and allow the patients to practice scraping their teeth.

Then there are those people needing to practice walking, yet despising the idea of using a walker. A trained giant breed, like a Newfoundland or St. Bernard can be used in these cases, but the patients are not encouraged to get their own service dog unless it has been professionally trained.

Pets can reduce our stresses and anxieties. Just being around animals can be calming even if the creatures are not yours. There are those who volunteer at the local animal shelter: taking the dogs for walks, grooming and just being there for the dog to go to for reassurance and petting during a play period.

Another way to relieve your anxieties is to take your pet and visit someone at their home or at a nursing home. If you feel that would depress you, volunteer at a rescue kennel where a number of animals need attention each day to make them more adoptable.

There are so many sports and events available for pet owners to train their dogs to participate in that there is no excuse not to try a few and find out which ones your pet likes the best.

For a shy dog, try agility. The obstacles, once mastered, give the dog the feeling of success and he looks forward to his turn on the agility course. For the fast moving, intelligent breeds, try Rally Obedience, even though you have to struggle through the boredom of basic obedience first.  

There are events for sight hounds; for those that like to dig. Know your dog and have fun while relieving stress.