5 Benefits Of Using A Therapy Dog When Learning To Walk

When Noah was born one of the fist things someone said to me “There’s never been a better time in the history of the world for someone to be born with Down syndrome!” I think that’s a fantastic (and true) quote, and I couldn’t agree more. There are so many resources (and research) available today to help children with Down syndrome reach their full potential, all of which will only continue to grow as we head into the future. So that quote will continue to be more true as time goes on.

How awesome!

We Hit The Pediatric Therapist Jackpot!

We were very fortunate to have found a team of outstanding physical, occupational, and speech therapists when Noah was only a few weeks old that have helped him in more ways than we count. We are incredibly grateful for these folks!

What I especially love about this team of therapists is that they are always trying new techniques to help Noah reach his goals. (Be sure to check out this list of characteristics to look for in your child’s therapist.) For instance they started using pediatric treadmill therapy with Noah before he was even 12 months old! In addition to that, they have recently started using a therapy dog to help him learn to walk on his own! Pretty cool, huh?

therapy dog physical therapy one yearold boy

Getting warmed up….

How Noah uses a therapy dog to learn to walk.

As you can see in the video, Noah’s physical therapist has him hold on to the dog’s leash and “walk the dog” while sits behind him in a rolling chair holding on to his hips to help him keep his balance and maintain correct posture. He is pretty wobbly and hard to hold on to due to his hypotonia, but all and all I think he did a great job, and couldn’t be more proud of him!

kid with down syndrome using therapy dog

We’re so proud of this kid!

5 Benefits Of Using A Therapy Dog

To be honest I had no idea what the benefits of using a therapy dog with our one year  were, but upon doing a little research found out there are many. Here’s a few of the ones that stood out to me:

  1. A Steady Gait: Properly trained therapy dogs are able to move forward at a steady pace that’s easily adjusted as the child speeds up or slows down. In other words, the dog will keep up with the child. Since Noah’s just learning how to walk, he isn’t very fast or steady, and we don’t have to worry about a therapy dog like the one he’s using in today’s video charging forward unexpectedly pulling Noah with him.
  2. Motivation: Studies have shown that therapy patients enjoy doing tasks that aren’t normally enjoyable (like physical therapy….which is hard work!) when they are doing things the animal enjoys. In other words, “Let’s go walk a cute dog today.” sounds a lot more fun than “Ok, it’s time to go to physical therapy today and work really hard which will ultimately help you learn to walk.” Both achieve the same goal, but the first one sounds a heck of a lot more fun! (By the way, I’m still tying to find a way to change “It’s time to do laundry so we’ll have clean clothes.” into a fun game like this. If you think of anything please let me know.)
  3. Increase Attention Span: Children (and dads, like me) can find it hard to maintain focus on a specific task for long periods of times. In fact, some days Noah isn’t into therapy at all, and doesn’t want to do anything while we’re there. However, studies have shown than when therapy dogs are present children are more engaged and can stay focused on the task much longer. As you can see in today’s video Noah did a great job walking around the building with the dog and didn’t want it to end when he was finished.
  4. Increases Confidence: As a child starts to see improvements toward their therapy goals while using a therapy dog, there confidence goes up , which  results in the child meeting more milestones and becoming stronger in existing areas.
  5. Reduces Anxiety and Fear: Working on a new goal can create fear and anxiety no matter how old (or young) a person is. The use of animals in therapy produce a calming effect, and helps the child feel more comfortable so that they can work on their therapy goals.

These five tips are just the tip of the iceberg. There are lots of other benefits to using therapy dogs and many studies out there for you to read if you’re interested in learning more. Here’s a few fun pictures of Noah getting his therapy dog on…!

cute kids and dogs learning to walk

Snack time!

kid having fun at physcial therapy

He gets excited!

special needs benefits therapy dog

Hi, I’m Noah.

cute kids and pets special needs

Best Buddies.

one year old learning to walk

“I can skip if you want me to.”

kid running away from dog

“Forget the dog…I’m out of here!”

It’s Hard Work…And A Marriage Tip For Husbands

As I mentioned, we’re thankful to have therapists involved in Noah’s life who are on the cutting edge, and not afraid to try to news things to help him grow and develop. We’re also extremely proud of our little boy and how hard he works day in, day out. Words can’t describe how I feel as a dad seeing how far he has come. I love this kid.

Oh, and after I saw how much Noah enjoys large dogs I surprised my family with this guy.

Quick note to all the husbands out there: while it may seem like a good idea to surprise your family with a puppy-that-will-end-up-being-a-70-poud-dog-someday without talking to your wife first.  It’s not.

Trust me. 🙂

golden doodle special needs dog down syndrome

Meet Jake, our new Goldendoodle.

Has your child ever used a therapy dog? What has your experience been? Also, do you have any pets? Leave a comment and tell us about them!

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About Rick Smith

Hi, I'm Noah's Dad and I'm passionate about giving the world a window into our life as we raise our son who was born with Down syndrome. I also enjoy connecting with other families, so let's stay connected.


  1. Jessica Spencer says

    Hi Rick,

    I work for Cascade Dafo, Inc. and help with our Twitter/FB/Social media accounts. We’ve been following your blog for a while and really love reading your posts.

    I just had to comment on this particular post because…I have a goldendoodle and therefore LOVE hearing about other “doods.” Looking forward to reading about the adventures of Noah and Jake. 🙂 And, wishing you lots of patience for puppy training. If he’s anything like our doodle was a pup, you will need it!(But really they are WONDERFUL dogs — our guy tolerates a lot of sometimes-rough love and cuddles from our two young kiddos. I could not imagine life without him.)

    Jessica Spencer

  2. Joseph Ryan says

    lol about unilateral canine acquisition

    Very good excellent points abut the five (more) ways therapy dogs rock. My daughter with DS is 15. When she was born, a mom we knew of a 14 year old girl with DS told us pretty much what you were told. It was true then, and it’s true now, but such improvement can not, must not, be taken for granted.


  3. Bernadette Zimmerman says

    I look forward to seeing your post each day. I did not have the opportunity to see my granddaughter grow up. My memories of her are very vivid of her. any great benefits were extended to other children with Downs because granted us the blessing of having her for 2 years. I truly believe she implores the Lord to keep her Grandmother in tow. God bless you and best wishes for the new baby.

  4. Wishing you and Eli all the best little Noah!! 🙂 we look forward to all your stories and adventures and wish you and your family all the best!

  5. You inspired us today here in India! Thanks!

  6. Re laundry: let Noah stand next to the clean laundry and take out clothes. Good practice standing, leaning over, picking things up and letting go… then, work on vocabulary, naming different items, colors, etc. Having fun yet?

    • We actually did make sorting laundry a game! It was “dark mountain” and “light mountain” and the child puts the latest piece where it belongs. They liked throwing the laundry onto the right pile!

  7. Hi, i am a mother of a fifteen days old. When my son was born nothing was informed to me. I was discharged from the hosp. Next day with a discharge summary that my new born was perfect. After five days when i went to the doc. He said that the child has ninety 0/0 signs of down syndrome. It was shocked. I can’t eat anything since the day. I am living on liquids that is also too less. People like u who can afford therapies can say it is pleasure to have ds child. I am living in uae working and having three elder kids. No facility is provided here. More over if i go back to my home country pakistan. It is also extremely hard as normal people find lack of proper living hard there. It is even harder for such a child to survive. Please guide.

  8. Clarister Arko Antwi says

    i have a down syndrome baby. He is 19months now who can crawl but can’t stand on his own because of his hypotania nature. How i wish he will be able to walk but how. Please, i need your advice. I’m in Ghana and we don’t have access to certain therapy

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