Last week Jazz had one of her most affectionate visits ever. She worked beautifully, immediately sitting for petting at the feet of patients or (after my okay) gently alighting gingerly upon the patients bed, right at their side then quickly settling in for the love. I was impressed. She touched the hearts of many that day.
Afterwards, we got in the car and she crashed in the back seat and quickly fell asleep for the ride home. Then it occurred to me thanks to the delightful words of Doug the dog from the movie "Up":
Jazz had just spent the last hour being everyone's very best new friend for five minutes.
Think about that for a second.
Being so keenly engaged and connecting with a total stranger over and over again is an exhausting experience to the spiritual, subconscious self and can be felt in the physical realm....the muscles ache just as they would after a good workout. Being and giving on a level that a therapy dog does is a workout.
Post visit time varies from dog to dog as no two are wired the same. Some dogs may benefit from some physical activity (like fetch) to release stress, some may prefer a good nap while yet others may just want some "me time", aka: left alone.
The handler may very well need some post visit time as well. Even though the handler won't be snuggling in the laps of strangers, there is the gentle and uplifting contact with the patient as well as being the conscious core of the dog/handler team. A pleasurable but potentially draining activity.
As a handler, I enjoy some sort of social interaction. Jazz, on the other hand, is a "me time" kind of girl and really just needs to be left completely alone till she's ready to regroup with her pack a few hours later.
Being sensitive to what patients are experiencing and feeling is helpful as an empathetic dog may feel effects from strong, pained energy. Jazz will on occasion require a post-visit bath to cleanse her fur of body oils or medical scents left by someone who so effected her leaving her feeling rather down. Don't discount the fact that your dog can smell many times better than you and those who have touched him will leave behind their scent.
Sometimes a bit of "me time" between you and your dog can be very beneficial and bonding. A quiet area where you can gently massage your dog and otherwise just enjoy one another's company without interuption.