Frazer Blog

Ruff Times: How Therapy Dogs Help the Grieving

by | Jul 11, 2017 | For Families, Funeral Profession

A woman holding a small puppy

When grieving families feel overwhelmed with emotions, therapy dogs provide some comfort and support while they’re coping with their loss. For this reason, many funeral homes have therapy dogs to help families through funeral planning and the funeral service.

Although the National Funeral Directors Association (NFDA) doesn’t currently keep a record of how many funeral homes in the United States own therapy dogs, they’ve seen an increase in the last few years.

Benefits of Therapy Dogs

According to an NDFA survey, more than half of survey participants said they would either be somewhat, very, or extremely interested in having a therapy dog at a funeral or memorial service. Therapy dogs allow those grieving to receive some comfort and relieve their stress and anxiety for a bit.

This is especially true for grieving children who may not be comfortable talking about their feelings with adults. Therapy dogs give them someone to talk to and comfort them during an emotional and possibly confusing time. They comfort children and other grieving people by sitting at their feet or resting their head on their legs.

Mood Boosters

Not only do dogs provide comfort, they also help improve our overall mental and physical health. Petting a dog increases serotonin and dopamine levels in our brain, which improves our mood by lowering stress, anxiety, and depression. Stroking a dog also lowers blood pressure and helps those who are feeling lonely, which could be the case for someone who lost a loved one.

Since those who are grieving may experience these emotions, therapy dogs make the perfect companion to help ease them.

Watch for Signs of Stress

Funerals are a stressful time for families, but it’s also important to watch for signs of stress in therapy dogs. Dogs can become emotionally tired after being around grieving families, so you should give them some break time to recuperate. You also can give them a change of scenery by taking them to your local nursing homes and hospice centers.

Therapy Dog Requirements

Although it might depend on the training program, generally any dog can be certified as a therapy dog no matter their age or breed. However, dog breeds with a better temperament around people may be better suited for the role. Preferably, a therapy dog should have a calm demeanor and be well-trained. They also should be up-to-date on vaccines, and if possible, hypoallergenic.

Some hypoallergenic dog breeds include:

  • Some Terriers
  • Poodle
  • Maltese
  • Some Schnauzers
  • Shih Tzu
  • Bichon Frise
  • Mixes of these breeds
  • Dogs that are hairless or shed very little

According to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), therapy dogs are different than service dogs. Service dogs perform tasks for people with disabilities, while therapy dogs provide people with comfort and support.

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