Ahead of this year's National Pet Show, we spoke with Cate - Doug The Pug Therapy Dog's owner - who will be appearing at the event to talk about Pets As Therapy, with some more of Doug's Therapy Pet friends.
We were interested to find out what exactly Therapy Pets do, what makes a great Therapy Pet and what Doug gets up to when he's not on the job!
Tell us how yourself and Doug became involved in Pets As Therapy.
I’ve always valued the human animal bond, and the benefits of being with our companion animals. But it was only when a dear family member was chronically ill for many years that I began to truly understand how feelings of loneliness and isolation can be reduced by our four legged friends.
At a time when human interaction appears to take up so much energy and emotional resources, our companion animals expect nothing of us - they show no judgement and hold no stigma. It was then that I knew how Doug had so much more love to share and I sought to register him with Pets As Therapy.
How would you describe the personality of a pug, and what makes pugs great therapy pets?
Pugs are fun. They are cheeky characterful and stubborn. But then, dogs of all breeds have their own wonderful personalities – as we do too. I feel Doug has made a fabulous Therapy Dog - but love it that other dogs, of all breeds, have shared their sweet love too.
The Pets As Therapy “Dog of the Year” last year was a Staffie cross – this is a beautiful illustration that we are all what you make us, and that true beauty always shines from within. Pets As Therapy never favour one breed over another – the suitability of a dog is entirely down to the behaviour and characteristics of each individual.
Do you think training a pug is different to other breeds of dog? Does training take a different form when your pet works as a therapy animal?
Training a Pug is a challenge. They really are so stubborn! Training needs to be consistent, constant and structured – with all members of the household being totally committed to the same values. Fortunately, Pugs are very food driven - so bribery and corruption, particularly with sausage or cheese, is very fruitful!
Pets As Therapy register their dogs purely on structured behavioural assessments. Ensuring that the dog is never going to react negatively to any sounds actions or behaviours coming its way, and illustrating how the dog is going to enjoy and welcome the attention it will receive, is paramount. So, a prospective Pets As Therapy dog needs to be quiet, well behaved, predictable and gentle, before registration is sought.
In your experience, how can pets have a positive effect on our mental health?
At The National Pet Show, in 2016, Doug won “Most Heroic Hound” award for his work supporting positive mental health and emotional well-being. It was awarded at a time when we were all waking up to the fact that mental health is so important - and that we must value and respect mental health challenges, and talk about these difficulties more honestly and openly, in order to be physically well. When Doug supports those who have mental health challenges. He is like a gentle comfort blanket.
Doug allows conversations to open up, with him as a neutral centre point, helping to prevent the build up of anxiety from any sensitive ‘no go’ topics. Being with Doug helps the conversation feel as if it’s being held in a safe place. Holding and caressing a companion animal like Doug is said to reduce blood pressure, supress production of the stress hormone cortisol and stimulate the production of the feel good hormone oxytocin. When time is shared with Doug, all of these combined benefits go together - and this goes a long way towards making anyone feel stronger in their mental health.
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🌿🐶🌿 What fun we had at DogFest this weekend with everyone who came to see us! We had lots of lovely peeps, big and small, and puppers too, of all shapes and sizes, who came to share their love and kindness. Thank you @stanleybugpieandthekitties @apugcalledalfie for sharing your loveliness with us. And a big thank you to @jonnyandmilotheett for looking after us and @mattyratty each morning with a delicious cooked brekkie and then G&T’s each evening! Fabulous service! And thank you @mattyratty for introducing us to the beauties of his old stomping ground, Bristol! And a huge thank you to all the lovely lovely peeps at @dog_fest for hosting us. They enabled us to share our love with so many wonderful people and their pooches over the weekend - and lots of them might become part of @petsastherapy_uk too. Paws crossed! We so love it when people and their sweet pooches would like to do what we do too. 💞🐶💞 #DogFest #dogfest2019 #dogfestbristol #dogswithjobs #workingdog #WorkingLikeADog #workingdogs #therapydog #therapydogs #therapydogsrock #therapydogsofinstagram #dogsofinstagram #dogsoninstagram #dogsofinsta #dogsoninsta #pug #pugs #pugsofinsta #pugsofinstagram #puglover #doglover
Since having Doug have you noticed a positive change in your own mental health and wellbeing?
I have, I feel that learning more about the effects of Companion Animal Therapy, and the joys of The Human Animal Bond, whilst seeing these benefits come to fruition as they are used in real live situations has warmed my heart enormously. I value all that we love and share so deeply and am gladdened that we can support those we do.
Social media can often be seen to negatively affect one's mental health. Doug has a large following on Instagram. Do you feel that Instagram, and other social media, can also be a positive platform for communicating with people about issues such as autism, anxiety or stress?
Social media is a wonderful platform for sharing positivity. It’s such a waste not to use it in such a way. Being so visual, with a fairly limited narrative, social media can be dealt in bite sized snapshots. With most people always on the move, it’s a great way to highlight what you want to share in an accessible form.
On our Instagram account - @dougthepugtherapydog - Doug has such a wide and varied audience. Some of whom are young, vulnerable or isolated. Sharing hope and encouragement, in a fairly light hearted but respectful way, is so great. We can also touch upon really tough and sensitive subjects, and reach out to a receptive audience, through a positive and engaging visual. I have many comments from followers voicing how we have brightened their day. Making someone feel valued and significant is very important to me.
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🏳️🌈 Throw back Thursday to a beautifully decorated London Underground last year. June is the month of Pride. Let’s embrace and celebrate the wonderful differences we all hold, and remember - Life Gets Better Together. All our differences make the world a much more interesting and vibrant place to share. How very dull all our lives would be if we were the same. Love is love. Feel free to share it with whoever makes you happy. 💞🏳️🌈💞 #pawsforequality #pride #proud #lifegetsbettertogether #lgbt #lgbtq🌈 #lgbtq #lgbti #lgbtsupporter #celebratedifferences #celebratedifference #pugs #puglife #pug #puglove #lovethelove #love #tottenhamcourtroad #londonunderground #loveislove #loveislove🌈
Talk us through what Doug would be doing in a classroom environment as part of his work as a therapy pet?
Doug has worked in mainstream schools and in pupil referral units. He's worked with children who have been excluded from school through their behavioural and emotional challenges. Supporting positive behaviour and encouraging a love of reading are our primary roles. On the Pets As Therapy “Read2Dogs” scheme, the children read Doug a story that they’ve chosen themselves. Doug never interrupts, he never corrects, and he enables each child to feel truly listened to and heard. Knowing that Doug never chastises, and is an attentive listener, helps children feel valued and significant.
In school nurture groups, Doug helps children participate in social situations that many young people don’t have an opportunity to share at home. As confidence is gained, Doug’s young friends embrace a greater positivity with books. They contribute more verbally in the classroom right across the curriculum, and they enjoy more social confidence in the playground. All in all, childhood and school life then becomes a much more positive place to be.
What is Doug's favourite thing to do when he's not on the job?
Doug leads a sweet life. Just as it should be! Playing and snuggling with big sis Molly dog is where Doug likes to be best. Despite appearances, Doug is always up for a good run about the garden or a long walk in the countryside.
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Our dear friends @apugcalledalfie asked us to post our favourite piccie and tell you why this is. We love this particular piccie because Dougie is here with his best pal, Big Sis Molly Dog, who shares her beautiful unconditional love. And it’s during our favourite week in London, which is London in Bloom, during the Chelsea Flower Show, which shares the most wonderful floral displays, free for all to see, on our city’s streets. But what makes it so very special to us is that we wish there really was a Freedom Street in our ‘hood, London SW1. Freedom to be who and what you really want to be and truly are. Freedom to live life just as you’d like it without the inhibitions of feeling you need to fit in. Freedom to live life without the judgement of others. If only ..... We so love it that our dogs show no judgement. Our dogs hold no stigma. We’d love everyone to feel the freedom to think like a dog. Thank you friends @apugcalledalfie and thank you @georgethefrug too. #shownojudgement #holdnostigma #thinklikeaboss #thinklikeadog #freedom #freedomstreet #dogsofinsta #dogsofinstagram #dogsoninstagram #dogsoninsta #doglover #doglovers #dogloversofinstagram #dogloversofinsta #dogloversoninstagram #itsadogslife #itsadogsworld
What can we expect to see from yourself and Doug at the National Pet Show?
Doug and I will be signing and personally dedicating copies of Doug’s book, “Doug the Pug – A Working Dog’s Tale”. Free pug hugs come with every copy purchased! It’s £6 and all royalties go directly to Pets As Therapy. Doug’s book encourages us to celebrate the differences we all hold, recognise that we all have something quite wonderful to offer and learn to love who and what we are.
What else are you looking forward to seeing/doing at the National Pet Show?
The National Pet Show is such great fun and always has so much to offer! It’s such a great day out for anyone of any age as there is always such a lot to see, do, and purchase! On our stand, we will have an ongoing rota of other Pets As Therapy dogs joining us! Anyone can come along, snuggle up, and read a story to one of our registered therapy dogs and enjoy smooching a sweet pooch!
You can see Doug and many more animals at the National Pet Show this November!
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