15/04/2012 18:51 BST | Updated 15/06/2012 06:12 BST

Dr. Dog Prescribes 10cc of Updog!

Everyone's heard of guide dogs, and while they do a brilliant job of directly assisting the blind or partially-sighted, the potential for all sorts of other, less specifically-trained dogs to help out those with a raft of complicated problems is still very much open to exploration.


Known semi-colloquially as 'Therapy Dogs', they belong to an incredibly patient and loving group, that visit hospitals and care homes, offering respite and welcome companionship to a huge array of patients and residents. Carefully selected for their patience, compassion and generally warm temperament, therapy dogs come in all shapes and sizes - not just Collies and Retrievers. German Shepherds, Boston Terriers and everything in between, can all make excellent therapy dogs, and what they can achieve simply through touch and play is so incredibly encouraging, that it beggars belief as to why dog therapy isn't much more commonplace, at least as an additional treatment option for those patients who wish to get involved.

I lost count of how many dogs I've photographed a long time ago, but can probably still identify every single one by name, and tell you something about their character, because apart from the fact that most appear to eat their own vomit, no two dogs are ever quite the same. Each has a character unto itself, which it will offer up to you with absolutely no hidden agenda. With dogs that have been raised and cared for responsibly, what you see is what you get. The energy of a truly positive dog hits you within the first few seconds, and if it likes you, it'll stick around, and if it doesn't, it won't.

For those suffering from depression, navigating their way to recovery can be tough; intensive psychotherapy and powerful medication, not to mention family and friends walking on egg shells all around them. What a relief it could be, then, to interact with a therapy dog for a few hours a week. The dog doesn't take notes, and it doesn't know or care about your history. For patients weighed under by depression, the light, simple and honest lift that therapy dogs provide, could be exactly what therapists need to get these people talking.

How many therapists would disagree that having an associate canine practitioner, with a little bow tie and glasses in their sessions, would not be a fantastic idea?

There is evidence to suggest that dogs can be introduced to and help patients suffering from all kinds of ailments, from anxiety disorders right through to distraction and temporary relief from chronic pain. Therapy isn't limited to hospital visits, either; war veterans, many of whom return and develop a form of post-traumatic stress disorder, have found comfort and a welcome means of coping through adoption from a shelter, and it is here, I believe, that some of the biggest gains are to be had.

Veterans can have a hard time returning home, readjusting and maintaining a sense of normality, that much is obvious, and so the stability and loyalty of a dog, simple and somewhat naïve though it may seem at first, may be just the solution to restoring equilibrium. The same goes for those recently treated for destructive depression; dogs provide challenging stimulation, and a certain responsibility that may have been lacking before, but which now acts as a starting point for moving forwards.

A dog, if treated with love and respect, will enrich your life, but it not a decision to be taken lightly. If you think that this might be something which you'd like to explore, then visit your local rescue shelter, and spend a little while talking to the staff and interacting with the dogs there. Take some time to think it over, and if you feel as though this partnership could be a beneficial one, then go for it!

If you have a story of how a dog helped you through something ruff, I'd love to hear about it.