Maybe you’ve gotten to see Ritter, a six-year-old chocolate lab, wagging his tail as he walks down the hallway or greets patients in the waiting area and wondered, “Why is there at dog at ESHC and what does he do?” Ritter is ESHC’s Resident Therapy Dog who works with his handler and speech-language pathologist, Jennifer Dierenfeld, to assist patients in Speech/Language Therapy.
Therapy Dog or Service Dog?
As opposed to Service Dogs who are trained to “work” for their clients by performing tasks specifically related to their client’s disability such as guide dogs, mobility dogs, or hearing dogs, Ritter is a Therapy Dog who has received specialized training to provide a variety of people with and without disabilities to have contact with him. As is the case for Ritter, Therapy Dogs are usually the personal pets of their handlers who have been trained with their handlers to provide services to others. Ritter completed intensive training and completed testing to ensure that he met the requirements both for temperament and obedience along with his handler to allow him the opportunity to work with patients at ESHC.
What the Appointments are Like
When patients or parents provide prior consent, Ritter has the opportunity to participate in Animal-Assisted Activities during speech/language therapy sessions. This may include casual “meet and greet” activities such as allowing patients the opportunity to pet Ritter and talk to him before, during, and/or after sessions. Additionally, this may include playing with dog toys, board games or reading a book to Ritter, depending on the patient’s level of interest and their individual goals within the session.
Why Therapy Dog at ESHC?
Studies show that animals can increase language production, increase literacy, and have dramatic positive effects on social interactions, along with an individual’s overall health and well-being. In a therapeutic setting, interactions with dogs can be especially beneficial because dogs are nonjudgmental and do not correct people. They understand nonverbal communication and accept and love interaction with people. Dogs do not care if people make eye contact with them, but they make frequent eye contact with their communication or interaction partners which provides an excellent model for appropriate interaction and helps to support speech/language goals for patients learning the rules for typical interactions. Additionally, dogs frequently initiate interactions with people and respond well to the communication or interaction attempts of their partners, which again helps to support speech/language goals. Last, but certainly not least, interacting with dogs is fun and can help motivate patients to participate in training for their speech/language goals. We are excited to have Ritter work at our clinic to achieve positive results in combination with our already prestigious programs.
Author: Jennifer Dierenfeld, M.A., CCC-SLP, Speech-Language Pathologist