We mostly hear about therapy dogs being trained to serve as an individual companion to support a person with psychological or emotional problems such as PTSD. Vancouver ecoVillage is a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing therapeutic services for people with various types of challenges, however their therapy dog program is oriented toward helping people at the community level rather than providing an individual support dog.
An example of what therapy dogs do in the Vancouver ecoVillage program is to participate in large-scale therapy dog events at universities, especially during exam periods when students become highly stressed. A typical event might be around two hours or so in length with 20 or more therapy dogs present and a student flow-through which can involve well in excess of 300 students. Each student gets to interact with one or more of the dogs as they choose. Such events have been held in several universities in British Columbia. The value of such events in reducing exam related stress in students has been validated in a clinical study by the Psychology Department of the University of British Columbia using Vancouver ecoVillage therapy dogs. This was a large study involving around 5,000 student participants spread over a seven week period.
The therapy dogs used in this program are pet dogs, however they must have earned the CKC’s Canine Good Neighbor title. Before dogs are allowed to participate they are evaluated by CKC Judge Marion Postgate to ensure that they have a temperament that includes confidence, good manners, and most importantly sociability towards people and other dogs.
Although a main focus of the Vancouver ecoVillage therapy program involves group events in universities and they also work with community inclusion groups such as the Canadian Mental Health Association, Spectrum Society and posAbilities to help connect their members to the benefits of the emotional support provided by interactions with a therapy dog. They also certify dogs to work with professionals, such as counselors, psychologists and rehabilitation therapists at their workplace.
Because of the nature of their therapy dog program Vancouver ecoVillage is always looking for well behaved dogs and sociable owners to take part in their petting events. Once a dog has been certified with them it is insured for five million dollars and can work any place in Canada, although at the moment the major focus of the program is in southern British Columbia. More information about certification can be found at www.vanecovillage.com/certification.
Stanley Coren has been a member of the CKC for well over 20 years. He has trained many dogs and these have earned numerous titles in Dog Obedience and Rally Obedience trials. He has participated in several Vancouver ecoVillage therapy dog events and would like to encourage others to do so as well.