Can I Take My Dog to Therapy with Me? A Guide to the Pros and Cons

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From restaurants and breweries to beaches and shopping centers, more and more public places are shifting towards dog-friendly policies.

And pet owners are taking notice.

Today’s dog owners have loads of options when it comes to exploring their community with Fido in tow. Chances are high you hit up the local burger joint and grocery store the moment they opened their doors to canine guests.

But how about your therapy sessions?

Have you ever considered bringing your dog as a tag-along?

Hold that eye roll, just a moment. There’s actually a number of ways you might benefit from letting your dog sit in on your next appointment.

Benefits of bringing your dog to therapy

• Promotes relaxation. Studies show that having a dog present can lower our blood pressure and minimize our reactions to stressful situations. By reducing stress levels and relieving anxiety, a friendly pet can lead to a positive therapy session.

• Strengthens counselor-client relationship. Animals have a natural way of encouraging friendly interaction among people. Your dog may be able to improve your relationship with your counselor by providing a connective link between the two of you.

• Encourages communication. Letting your dog sit in on your therapy appointments could encourage your own willingness to share. Dogs are pros at helping us lower our guards (gotta love ‘em for that!) and they can effectively encourage openness and cooperation.

Psychotherapist Diane Barth recalls a time when she needed to bring her cat to work with her:

“One client, a socially isolated woman, asked me to let her out of her carrier. To my amazement, the cat rested quietly beside her for the entire session. In the next session, my client told me, ‘I’ve never felt so peaceful as I did with your cat sitting with me.’”

A true testament to the calming therapeutic powers our pets can hold.

Questions to ask your counselor before bringing your dog to therapy

The idea of letting your dog participate in your next therapy session might sound like a slam-dunk, but there are a few things you should consider beforehand. Ask your counselor the following questions to make sure everyone is on the same page.

1. Is your therapist’s employer on board?

If your counselor is self-employed, then you don’t need to worry about this issue. If, on the other hand, they work with a public practice (in a hospital or university, for instance) then they’ll need to check with their HR rep and review their liability insurance before giving you and your dog the green light.

2. How do your counselor’s colleagues and staff feel about a dog in the office?

Check with your therapist ahead of time to see if she works with anyone who’s allergic to dogs or afraid of them. Your dog might make you calm, but he could have the opposite effect on others.

If someone in the office isn’t pleased with a visiting canine, the added stress could diminish the success of your session.

3. Is your particular form of therapy compatible with a dog present?

Certain forms of therapy are not well-suited for dogs to join in on, such as EMDR therapy. What method of counseling do you receive, and do you think your dog would serve as a facilitator or as a distraction for this counseling?

4. Does your state allow it?

Certain cities and states have restrictions when it comes to animals in the workplace. Make sure you and your counselor understand the legality of bringing your dog to therapy with you.

5. How does your dog behave in public?

This, of course, is a question only you can answer. Is your dog quite friendly and well-socialized? Does he ever exhibit aggressive behavior?

Also, consider how your dog might react to being in a new, unfamiliar environment with strangers. Will this new situation stress him out?  If he becomes agitated, you could be in for a stressful visit.

via pexels

Possible drawbacks to bringing your dog to therapy

While the pros seem to outweigh the cons here, there are some serious issues that could arise. Be prepared to deal with the following.

Distraction. Will your dog be able to sit calmly on your lap or near your chair while you engage with your therapist? Or is he likely to spend the session barking or trying to explore the contents of the clinic’s trashcans?

This is a particularly important consideration, especially if you own a high-strung, energetic dog or a new puppy who isn’t properly trained yet. A potty accident mid-session is not conducive to a relaxed environment: for you, for your dog, or for your counselor. If you wind up attending to your dog the entire session, you’ll be wasting everyone’s time.

Disruption. Bringing your dog into your therapist’s office may be therapeutic to you, but what about the other employees who work alongside her? You may disrupt your counselor’s colleagues or office staff. This is especially true for people who suffer from allergies or a fear of dogs.

Potential legal issues. Even if your dog is ordinarily well-mannered, you can’t always predict what might set him off. If you’re worried about how your dog will react to new people, perhaps it’s better to leave him home for everyone’s safety.

Four tips for making your therapy session successful with a dog

  1. This one’s kind of a no-brainer, but make sure you get the go-ahead directly from your therapist before corraling fido into the car.
  2. Be prepared and pack a bag with treats, poop bags, and bones to distract your dog if necessary.
  3. Understand that the first visit will likely be a trial session with your dog. Don’t be disappointed if things don’t go exactly as you’d planned them.
  4. If your counselor is willing, set up a brief meet-and-greet prior to your scheduled appointment. This way, your dog can familiarize himself with your counselor, and you can both gauge whether or not a full-length visit is appropriate.

via unsplash

As dog owners, we’re all familiar with the benefits that our canine pals can have on our mental health. If you think letting your dog sit in on one of your counseling sessions would calm your nerves, have a candid talk with your therapist and see where she stands on the matter. You might just gain a whole new appreciation of therapy.

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