#093: Therapy Dog Welfare with Shannon Noonan

by | July 24, 2023 | Therapy Dog Talk

Therapy Dog Talk - Shannon + Blue

Shannon created a Therapy Dog program with her dog Blue and advocates for Therapy Dog welfare.

In this 93rd episode of Therapy Dog Talk, I had the pleasure of sitting down with Shannon Noonan, where she shared her experiences as a mental health professional, certified professional dog trainer and Therapy Dog handler with her rescued Great Dane Pointer mix, and heart dog, Blue.

Shannon began by introducing herself and her extensive background in the Therapy Dog world. She’s been deeply involved in this field, and her experiences have shaped her perspectives on the incredible impact these dogs can have.

Shannon’s fascination with Therapy Dogs began when she discovered the profound connection they forge with people and their mental health. Her journey started with her rescue dog Blue, who became her first Therapy Dog partner. Through this partnership, Shannon realized how Therapy Dogs offer a powerful coping mechanism for individuals dealing with various mental health challenges.

During our conversation, Shannon emphasized the importance of recognizing when a dog may not be suitable for Therapy Dog work. She stressed the need to prioritize the welfare of these incredible animals who bring so much comfort and support to others.

We chatted about the signs of stress in dogs and how essential it is to read their subtle signals, especially in therapy settings. Shannon shed light on the pressure to find the right fit for a Therapy Dog and the necessity of understanding that not all dogs are suited for this role—and that that’s okay!

Shannon shared her current experiences with her Great Dane, Truman, and her awareness that he may not be ready for Therapy Dog work at this time. She pointed out how dogs, just like humans, can change over time, either physically or behaviorally, and may no longer be suitable for Therapy Dog work. This led to an intriguing discussion about how dogs, similar to people, may change careers or interests, and it’s crucial to respect their choices and well-being.

Shannon’s journey in the Therapy Dog world didn’t stop there. She embarked on creating a Therapy Dog program rooted in research and data to provide love and support to students. They measured students’ feelings of love and support from the dogs using Likert scale questions.

Shannon expressed her wish for researchers to investigate whether the Therapy Dogs also experience stress and how to measure it. Additionally, they aimed to determine in which environments students found the dogs more therapeutic.

One remarkable aspect they tracked was whether students who interacted with Therapy Dogs were referred to mental health services. Shannon highlighted their efforts to encourage conversations about mental health through handler training and business cards with resource information.

While mental health for the handlers was not a primary focus, Shannon found intriguing parallels between dog and human mental health. She emphasized qualities like empathy and adaptability as common ground and hoped to destigmatize the idea of using drug therapy for dogs with certain issues, advocating for combining it with counseling.

For those interested in Therapy Dog work, Shannon recommended continuing education in positive reinforcement dog training as a foundational step.

This episode offered valuable insights into the world of Therapy Dogs and how they can positively impact mental health. It reminded us to prioritize the well-being of these incredible dogs and respect their choices, just as we would for humans.

In this episode, we discuss …

  • How her research showed that Therapy Dogs can have a significant positive impact on people’s mental health.
  • Why it’s important to  recognize signs of stress and discomfort in dogs to ensure their well-being and happiness.
  • How dogs, like humans, can change over time, physically or behaviorally and that it’s essential to recognize and respect this.

Key moments you won’t want to miss:

Note that the timecodes match the video, not the podcast.

  • [00:05:43] Shannon emphasizes the remarkable impact of Therapy Dogs on people’s mental health, serving as a valuable coping mechanism.
  • [00:08:23] Shannon underscores the importance of prioritizing the well-being of Therapy Dogs and recognizing when they may not be suitable for the role.
  • [00:10:55] Shannon provides insights into identifying signs of stress in dogs and reading subtle signals to gauge their comfort in therapy settings.
  • [00:14:15] Shannon and Sherrie explore how dogs can undergo changes over time, both physically and behaviorally, potentially making them unsuitable for Therapy Dog work.
  • [00:14:32] Shannon and Sherrie discuss the idea that, like people, dogs may transition between careers or interests, highlighting the significance of respecting their choices and well-being.
  • [00:14:58] Shannon explains how she initiated a Therapy Dog program based on research and data, aiming to provide students with love and support through the dogs.
  • [00:16:26] Shannon and her team tracked whether students who interacted with the Therapy Dogs were referred to mental health services, emphasizing the potential impact of the dogs on students’ well-being.
  • [00:17:19] They encouraged conversations about mental health through handler training and provided business cards with resource information, promoting mental health awareness.
  • [00:21:25] Shannon identifies striking parallels between dog and human mental health, emphasizing empathy, compassion, and adaptability as shared traits.
  • [00:22:39] Shannon hopes to destigmatize the use of drug therapy for dogs with certain issues, advocating for its combination with counseling.

I hope you enjoy this episode as much as I do. Give it a watch or a listen and then let me know in the community which part you found the most helpful!

Mentioned in this episode:

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Therapy Dog Talk is a podcast where I interview a different team each week via Instagram Live. If you enjoyed this episode please find us over at Apple, Google, or Spotify and give us a follow after you leave a review.

Do you know someone who would make a great guest? Be sure to reach out and let me know.

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