dental therapy dog

This “snuggly” golden retriever works as a therapy dog to calm the fears of young patients at a pediatric dental clinic.

Parents come from miles around to bring their kids to Dr. Paul Weiss’ pediatric dental clinic in Williamsville, New York. Some live as far away as Syracuse, choosing to make the three-hour trip rather than go to a dentist in their own city. It’s because they want to see Brooke, the clinic’s resident therapy dog, a friendly golden retriever who comes to work at Dr. Weiss’ office every Wednesday and Thursday morning. Her job is to calm and comfort children who might be scared of climbing into that big intimidating chair for dental procedures — and she has a true gift for what she does.

Now six years old, Brooke was two when she became a part-time staff member at Dr. Weiss’ clinic. Prior to that, she was his family companion, but Dr. Weiss knew from early on she was meant to be much more than that.

“When I walked Brooke in the local park, I noticed that as people passed us, everyone who looked down at her immediately smiled,” he explains. “I decided that if it was so easy for her to make people smile, she must have a greater purpose than to just be my ‘pet’. I needed to find a way to share her. Therapy dog work came to mind.” Because therapy dogs are known to help relax and cheer people, having one at the dental office seemed like the perfect idea. “I decided to share Brooke with my patients, thinking she could help set kids at ease in what otherwise might be an uncomfortable setting.”

Dr. Weiss did some research to find out if there were any other dental therapy dogs out there, and came across one dentist in California who was bringing his dog into the office. He also called the attorney for the New York State Dental Association, to see if he would be legally permitted to bring Brooke to work with him. “They said it was a great idea, and actually encouraged it,” Dr. Weiss says.

Brooke next went through the appropriate training and was ultimately certified by Therapy Dogs International. A page dedicated to her on Dr. Weiss’ website explains the process: “Like all therapy dogs, Brooke was required to pass a rigorous training program and evaluation. She mastered basic obedience and proved she is able to accept common medical appliances, clumsy handling (petting) and various distractions.”

“She trained pretty easy, although I wanted to make sure if I had her in the office, we’d have absolutely no issues,” Dr. Weiss adds. “We had to make sure she could handle loud and sudden noises, and would tolerate handling from kids.”

Turns out Dr. Weiss didn’t need to worry. Brooke’s temperament, which he refers to as “tremendous”, means she’s ideally qualified to do therapy work. “She’s a snuggly dog, with a playful demeanor,” he says. As he goes on describe how Brooke interacts with his young patients, it almost seems that this intelligent and intuitive golden has a “sixth sense” for helping children feel more at ease about being at the dentist.

“New young patients are scared to get into the chair,” Dr. Weiss says. “But Brooke will jump in it, and the kids will follow. She’s particularly good with kids with special needs, such as emotional disabilities, autism or cerebral palsy. She seems to sense their need. She’ll rarely jump on the chair during a procedure, but if the child is disabled, she will. I’ve been able to do procedures on autistic kids that I otherwise wouldn’t have been able to do without Brooke. She keeps them calm. I’ve had parents in tears because of the good Brooke has done their children.”

Not surprisingly, Brooke has become a celebrity among the clinic’s clientele, and many parents will only book their kids in for appointments when they know Brooke is going to be there. It means Wednesdays and Thursdays — also known as “Brooke Days” – are especially busy times, but her gentle and relaxing presence helps the staff cope with the extra patient load. “Her energy is so happy and positive that she transmits it to the whole office, and makes it more upbeat,” Dr. Weiss says. “Her tail’s wagging, she wants to play and suck up love, and it changes the whole mood of the office.”

Brooke hangs out in the reception area as well as the examination room, so families coming through the door are put instantly at their ease. “Her calm and gentle demeanor, friendliness to strangers and receptiveness to physical contact make her the perfect addition to the playful child-oriented surroundings of the office,” says Dr. Weiss’ website. “The match between Brooke and the patients seems perfect… She gets the love that she needs and she can help take the child’s and parent’s mind off their fears.”

In the future, Dr. Weiss hopes to do additional therapy work with Brooke in hospitals and other facilities within the community, but for now, his focus is on making his young patients’ visits to his dental office as comfortable and pleasant as possible. And given how good Brooke is at her job, it’s clear she’ll excel in those other settings as well. “She knows when you need her,” Dr. Weiss says. “She brings happiness and positive energy to everyone she’s in contact with.”