Therapy Dogs for CRPS and Chronic Pain

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Our earlier short article on Assistance Dogs for people suffering CRPS and other chronic pain conditions resulted in considerable feedback. It seems that, universally, the opinion is that there is a definite role here for our canine friends.

However, the reaction suggested strongly that dogs provide far more benefit to us than assisting with chores around the home. It has been long accepted that the presence of dogs and indeed other animals can help to relieve stress and anxiety, lower blood pressure, boost endorphins, reduce heart and breathing rate and generally make us feel more positive. Dogs can improve our social interaction – it’s been proven that the presence of a dog is far more likely to result in us striking up a conversation with a stranger. We also tend to worry more about an animal’s wellbeing than our own; which in itself is great distraction.

Research

And yes, there is published research on the medical benefits of interaction with dogs. An interesting study published in 2012 considered the “Impact of Animal-Assisted Therapy for Outpatients with Fibromyalgia”. Of 155 participants, 106 were able to opt to spend their waiting time at a pain clinic with a certified therapy dog, whilst 49 were limited to the outpatient waiting area. The authors stated that “Significant improvements were reported for pain, mood, and other measures of distress among patients after the therapy dog visit but not the waiting room control” and concluded that “Brief therapy dog visits may provide a valuable complementary therapy for fibromyalgia outpatients.

Monica

One person who responded following our article was Monica. In brief, following an accident five years ago she developed CRPS in her foot and ankle. Often confined to the house on her own for many hours whilst her partner is working, Monica had for some time considered getting a dog for companionship. However, temperament was a particular concern.

A puppy was out of the question; it would be unfair to the dog” she says. “In the end we decided that I needed a slightly older dog and not one that was too small as I’m very unsteady around the house and I couldn’t risk it getting under my feet or jumping onto my leg.

In the end she approached a rescue home for some advice and that’s where she was first introduced to Max, a medium-sized mongrel whom they thought was around four to five years of age. “We just clicked” says Monica. “He’s a really happy dog; he loves people and attention but he doesn’t charge at you or jump up. His idea of heaven is curling up next to me on the sofa. I’ve had him for nearly two years now and having him around has put me in a much better place mentally. I chat away to him all day long. It’s amazing the things I tell him. He’s a great therapist!

Training

Even more so than Assistance Dogs, Therapy Dogs are far more commonplace across the pond than here in the UK. Indeed, there are a number of Therapy Dog organisations in the US and the American Kennel Club actively encourages dog owners to investigate the possibility of having their dogs trained as Therapy Dogs. They offer the following guidance:

Therapy dog candidates should be naturally calm, friendly and affectionate to strangers. They also need to be well trained in basic obedience, able to easily adapt to novel noises, places, smells, and equipment. Therapy dog organizations also require that therapy dogs be healthy and have regular wellness check-ups and be well-groomed, clean and brushed at the time of all visits.

Clearly, in the UK we have some distance to make up. However, even without specific training it seems that the right dog can still prove to be great therapy. Monica would agree that her relationship with Max is proof of that.

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