Did you know that dogs can be doctors? Dr. Dogs（狗醫生）are a type of Therapy Dogs（醫療性犬隻）that provide affection and comfort to people in hospitals or nursing homes. They are different from the household dogs（家犬）and the working dogs（工作犬）. The Dr. Dog service team（狗醫生服務團隊）provides social care and special aid to people who need Animal Assisted Therapy.
Woof! The Owner-Dog Relationship.
Yi-fang Shih（施懿芳）and her shepherd dog, Juju, participated in the basic training class in 2013. “The reason I joined the class was because I heard shepherd dogs are smart, but if not properly trained, they might become very naughty.” The courses aim at establishing correct body languages between human and dogs, such as crate training（龍內訓練）, door etiquette（門口禮儀）, down training（趴下訓練）and so on. Also, the owner of the dog is required to understand what the dog is expressing by studying gestures and expressions, such as licking its nose or turning its head away. Next, the owner has to keep the dog on a balanced diet. These trainings cultivate them to be more accustomed to the society and become more tamed.
The qualifications in Dr. Dogs course are not high, but owners have to continue training their dogs. It takes a lot of patience and time. To precisely apprehend what the dog is trying to express and to improve the quality of the series of trainings is really important. Shih added, “As long as the training goes well, every dog deserves a chance to become Dr. Dog.” Different types dogs like Toy Poodles, Mongrels, Labradors, Golden Retrievers and Shepherd dogs are very commonly seen Dr. Dogs.
Through the courses, Yi-fang Shih builds up a more solid bond with Juju. “She is closer to me now and becomes very obedient. This brings me a sense of achievement,” Shih said. Juju does not become a doctor, but a Healing Dog（療癒犬）eventually. “I have no demand on Juju to become a doctor,” Shih explained, “I simply want her to be my job partner.” Shih currently runs a healing dog PSY studio（療癒犬心理工作室）with her Psychology Department schoolmates in Hualien. They use what they have learned to help rural citizens, the minorities, the elderly, aboriginals and the physically challenged.
Dr. Dogs in Taiwan
Although many people don’t understand what Dr. Dog, aka the therapy dog, is in Taiwan, the FAAATA (Formosa Animal-Assisted Activity & Therapy Association（台灣狗醫生協會）still works very hard on the development and promotion of the therapy dogs system in Taiwan. There are hundreds of licensed therapy dogs and they would visit the people in need regularly in more than forty organizations like nursing homes, hospitals and schools. FAAATA also keeps propagating the idea of Dr. Dog to raise awareness among the public.
In addition, FAAATA offer courses of different stages to both dogs and the owners in order to make the dogs friendlier, calmer and more qualified to serve their duties. ‘ Shin-pei Su（蘇芯霈）, a member of FAAATA, said that these courses are widely open to the public. After passing a series of trainings, the dogs will be certificated and become an official Dr. Dog.
Dr. Dogs are needed because of their significant healing effect. What’s more, Mei-yun Chan（陳美雲）, a volunteer of Dr. Dog, said, “They can do something that normal people cannot do.” During the time she served as a volunteer, kids who suffered from mental disorder could express their thoughts and open their minds to the dogs. Also, some seniors who have physiological illness are willing to let the dogs accompany them to receive physical therapy.” These are hard-won achievements to the therapy dogs and it takes a couple of years to achieve. Chia-wen Hsieh（謝佳雯）, the teacher of a nursery especially for kids with disability, indicates that while the class is with the dogs, children would pay much more attention in class activities and interact with dogs spontaneously.
As for the future, Shin-pei Su（蘇芯霈） hopes that they can have more support from the government to enhance the visibility of the FAATA. Besides, in recent years, the number of the therapy dogs is on the decline due to many kinds of reasons, such as most dogs have reached their retirement age and the owners are not able to keep them anymore. Therefore, Su also hopes that there could be more doctor dogs in Taiwan.
How To Train Therapy Dogs
How can a dog become a therapy dog? Ming-lee Yeh（葉明理）, chief of the Profession Animal-Assisted Therapy Association of Taiwan（台灣動物輔助治療專業發展協會）said, “The first and the most important thing is that a dog must have a handler.” Yeh emphasized that only when a therapy dog and its handler have a good relationship can they cure patients. She added, “ There should be a therapy dog（動物輔助治療犬）, a specialist（動物輔助治療師）, and a handler（飼主）in each therapy case, which is also known as the Animal-Assisted Therapy Gold Triangle（動物輔助治療金三角）. The work of a specialist is to lead a therapy dog to help a patient on different cases. On the other hand, handlers have to pay attention and tame their dogs on special occasions.”
Professional Animal-Assisted Therapy Association（台灣動物輔助治療專業發展協會）collaborates with several professional therapy dog trainers on canine trainings. The life management（生活管理）, obedience（服從訓練）, and socialization（社會化）are three key points on basic training. Another high level training includes talent, service skill（服務技巧）, and dressing（服裝打扮）. “There are many training methods depending on different personalities of dogs; therefore, handlers also have to stay with their dogs during the course of training because they need to understand how to train their dogs and help patients thereafter,” Yeh explained.
The association not only holds many levels of qualification tests for the therapy dogs every year but also devotes to the adoption of dogs that have potential of becoming therapy dogs from animal shelters or other institutions.
Currently, therapy dogs mainly hold service in Taipei and Taichung areas. “We want to promote Animal-Assisted Therapy Gold Triangle（動物輔助治療金三角）around Taiwan and build a professional canine therapy system in the future.” said Ming-lee Yeh. In the future, the association hopes the project can be expanded to the other places so as to help more people. More professionals and potential dogs have to join the training in order to establish a complete training system.