My Fibromyalgia Therapy Dog: A Progress Update

My Fibromyalgia Therapy Dog: A Progress Update


Christine Tender Points

In this column, I want to update you on our dog’s progress in his journey toward becoming a therapy dog. Sadly, I must report that Sam’s improvements have been minimal at best since my previous report last August. The good news is that having him in my home has done wonders for me and my fibromyalgia (FM) symptoms. Stroking his silky coat releases oxytocin and contributes to my well-being. He’s brought laughter to my home, which is always a good thing.

We learned early on that Sam, a rescue dog, was the victim of abuse by his former owner. Our first clue was that he often cowers when he’s petted and sometimes urinates at the same time. He also urinates when he’s excited – which is whenever we return from being away from him, even if it’s only a half-hour absence. This is unacceptable behavior for a therapy dog.

Mopping up puddles was not the increased exercise I had in mind when adopting a dog, so I consulted our veterinarian on this issue. I learned from him that some dogs who endure traumatic beginnings (as Sam must have) never outgrow their fear behaviors. I’ve found guidelines published by the Humane Society to be helpful. We’ve been following these tips hoping that in time he will learn that he’s safe with us and his unwanted behaviors will improve.

I realize now that some dogs are not suited to becoming therapy animals, no matter how carefully you select for temperament or intelligence. But that’s OK. Owning any dog has a therapeutic effect — and I’ve also learned that they can be more work than I might like.

therapy dog
Sam. (Photo by Christine Lynch)

In my recently published book, “More Than Tender Points: A Fibromyalgia Memoir,” (a sequel to “Tender Points: A Fibromyalgia Memoir,” published in 2007), I describe some of my previous experiences with dog ownership for those with FM who are considering that choice. I included details of my past experiences with the challenges of potty training and bark control in the chapter titled, “So You Think You Want a Pet.” Thanks to Sam, the next edition will include an expansion of that chapter.

On the surface, it may seem that walking a dog, feeding him, and caring for his health needs are all that’s required for dog ownership. Adopting a new dog is a great temptation for a homebound fibromyalgia sufferer; the companionship can appear to be heaven-sent. But it’s important to keep in mind that many dogs (especially rescue dogs like Sam) can have behavioral issues. Dealing with these problems can be very stressful and cause an increase rather than a decrease in symptoms. With dog ownership you must be prepared for any possibility, and taking on the responsibilities of a new pet must be considered very carefully when fibromyalgia rules your life.


Note: Fibromyalgia News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Fibromyalgia News Today, or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to fibromyalgia.


  1. Robin says:

    It seems like there are always pros and cons when owning a pet. We have a handicapped cat that can be quite challenging as well. I’m sorry it didn’t work out for your dog to become a service dog.

  2. Linda Meilink says:

    I had an elderly pet when I was first diagnosed with fibromyalgia and I became increasingly aware that I could not care for him as he needed. I have several friends whose houses smell and who can’t afford medical care for their pets. I would love to have another dog, but I recognize that it would be selfish of me. Dogs are not play things whose function is to cheer us up. I wish magazines and physicians would stop recommending them.

  3. Marsha says:

    I have had my dog Scout for over five years. Like your dog, he is a rescue and came with a unique set of baggage that has made life with him challenging at times. His anxiety response is connected to noise and he barks at everything from the phone (his worst trigger) to birds. I also have fibro, but also have severe anxiety which is also worsened by, you guessed it, noise! I also have daily migraines which are sensitive to noise. I still would rather live with Scout and his many foibles than live without him. He brings a lot of laughter to my family (he also hates being laughed at) and gives me love and affection. Life with a pet is a balancing act, but any relationship brings with it challenges. If anyone has ideas about positive training techniques for desensitizing Scout to the phone it would make my life much easier!

    • Marla J Schmucker says:

      I have a 15 year old Rat Terrior and have had him from a puppy. Being a basically housebound fibro,chondritis, osteoarthritis, and the list goes on person. He has been my emotional support dog and he is registered. I have a letter from my Psychiatrist so that he could travel with me. Taking him out for potty time is a must, so I can’t just lay around. It can be difficult, but he seems to be able to alert me to migraines, flare ups, and some of my other debilitating issues. He keeps me going everyday and that is true love and a positive thing.

  4. Rebecca Fouts says:

    As a dog trainer, I can tell you that submissive peeing is not always a sign of abuse; usually it’s just a sign of lack of socialization and poor genetics. Are you actually trying to make this dog into a service dog? or therapy dog? I ask, because there’s a big, BIG difference. I actually work with owner-trainer service dog teams, which are trained to help someone with a disability. Therapy dogs are for animal assisted therapy/activities, like in assisted living homes. Either way, there are resources out there, books and trainers, and I urge you to take full advantage of them. And you are absolutely right – MOST dog’s aren’t suited for the work (either one). Wash-out rate of a professionally trained service dog in training is 60% – that’s AFTER initial rigorous evaluation before training even begins.

  5. L Valine says:

    My dog was elderly and had a leaking bladder, like mine. Why would anyone assume it was submissive or subject to abuse? I loved that dog dearly.You have a strange reaction.

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