This handsome Labrador Retriever is one of the best-known therapy dogs on Instagram.
Magnus regularly visited hospital and schools to offer his therapy services to terminally ill patients and children.
This caring therapy dog works with children with severe learning disabilities and emotional disorders.
However, the coronavirus pandemic has forced Magnus and owner Brian to embrace social media.
With all of us needing some relief from a challenging 2020, Magnus has been putting smiles on faces with his entertaining and engaging posts on Instagram and TikTok through the pandemic.
With over 150,000 fans on Instagram and 1 million followers on TikTok, Magnus has been able to connect with a global audience and provide us all with some light-hearted humour.
We spoke to Magnus’ owner Brian about his amazing therapy dog, what it takes to be a therapy dog and why Magnus and his fellow therapy dogs have such an important role to play in society.
You can follow Magnus on Instagram (@magnusthetherapydog).
1) What attracted you to the Labrador Retriever breed?
Even though I have had many different types of pets in my life, I was always a dog lover at heart. As a kid we had 2 different dogs, a Westie and a Miniature Schnauzer. As amazing as these dogs were, I always knew that I wanted a big dog when I was older. When I was an adult living on my own, I adopted my first yellow Labrador named Cody. He was beyond amazing and from that moment on I was a Labrador lover for life. There are things about Labradors that I was always drawn too: their amazing personalities, intelligence and goofiness are just a few. I’ve never met a lab that I didn’t like!
2) How did you end up with Magnus?
Magnus was originally bred and raised to become a service dog for the blind, but like a lot of people, Magnus had a career change. He did not end up becoming a service dog, so I adopted him to become our family pet when he was a little over a year. He fit perfectly into our family. I took three months off from work when I adopted Magnus so we could spend time not only training, but most importantly bonding and a developing a solid line of communication. This strong foundation has been the bedrock of what makes Magnus such an amazing therapy dog.
3) What is Magnus’ personality like?
Magnus in latin means great and he exemplifies that meaning everyday. He is super intelligent, extremely loyal, playful and overall super laid back. He loves learning new tricks, going on long walks and spending time with his family.
4) When did you realise Magnus could excel as a therapy dog?
From the moment I brought Magnus home and I saw the way he interacted with my two young daughters, I realized he was different. It’s easy to teach a dog to sit, stay, down etc. However the one thing that you cannot teach a dog is empathy. This is where Magnus really shines. He has a natural ability to read people and understand what they need. Everyone who encounters Magnus cannot help smiling and feeling relaxed. He has a calming nature about him that relieves any stress or anxiety.
5) What does an average day look like for Magnus when he’s at work?
We usually wake up around 5am to go out for our morning walk and then go workout for an 1.5 hrs (well, I work out and Magnus naps…LOL) After that we have breakfast together and go out for our ritual 3.5 mile morning walk/jog. When we come back I start my workday and Magnus naps for a few more hours. Yes, Magnus naps A LOT. We go on a few smaller walks later in the day to play. Dinner for him is 8pm. Magnus must know how to tell time because he will start staring me down at exactly 8pm as if an alarm went off that only he can hear. Later on we go out for another walk and usually play a game of night fetch which he loves. We also do pepper small training sessions throughout the day.
6) Where does Magnus regularly visit in his role as a therapy dog?
The places that Magnus and I focus on are hospitals and schools. We visit hospitals to comfort terminally and critically ill children and adults. We also visit with the grieving families and the overworked hospital staff who care for these patients. We have also worked extensively with children who have severe learning disabilities and emotional disorders.
7) Can you explain some of the benefits of therapy dogs?
Therapy dogs can have a huge impact on a person’s life by providing both psychological and physiological assistance. Animals have a way to reduce peoples stresses, fears and anxieties in a way that is hard to describe.
8) What are some of your best memories with Magnus doing this work?
Regardless of the situation that the people we visit are dealing with, there is an immediate change the moment Magnus enters the room; their body relaxes, their mood lifts and a smile takes over their face.
During one of our visits to a school for children with emotional issues and learning disabilities, the teacher informed us that one of the high school students had severe autism and was absolutely terrified of dogs. We never force any interactions with Magnus and let the individual decide whether or not to approach him. Sometimes on a visit, you need to be creative and implement different techniques to help people engage with the animals in order to make sure everyone feels safe and comfortable. I explained that Magnus was extremely gentle and would never hurt anyone; the boy still stayed far away and was not convinced. I decided to show him that Magnus was so super gentle that I could place a treat between my fingers, give it to Magnus without letting go, and once I say “leave it” Magnus would release the food and my fingers would still be intact. The boy was amazed and asked to give Magnus a treat. The boy was so excited he started giggled like toddler and asked to do it again and again until he emptied my entire treat pouch. The teacher was amazed and couldn’t believe was he had witnessed. This was a huge breakthrough moment for the student and an extremely rewarding experience for us at the same time.
On a different visit to a hospital, we were about to go into the room of an elderly woman who only had a few days left to live. Upon entering the room the patient reached over her bedside to pet Magnus and immediately started to smile. We stayed for a while and the entire time she interacted with Magnus, she was glowing with happiness. When her sister walked us out she started crying because she said it was the first time her sister had smiled in months.
Moments like these are exactly why we do what we do; to give people comfort and happiness, even if it is only for a brief moment. These brief moments add up and mean a lot.
9) Why did you decide to start an Instagram page for Magnus?
Now that in-person pet therapy visits have been on hold due to COVID-19, we continue to try and brighten peoples day via funny videos that we post on our social media accounts. Countless people reach out to us and say that his content has become their “virtual therapy” and has really helped get them through some very rough times. We are hoping to get back to our in person visits soon, but in the meanwhile, online has been our way to pay if forward and makes people happy during this stressful time.
10) Do you have a preferred social media platform?
I am a big fan of Instagram and TikTok. They both provide unique ways of communicating with people from around the world.
11) How does Magnus carry out his great work now? Are their challenges or perks to being a virtual therapy dog?
Now that in person pet therapy visits have been on hold due to Covid, we continue to try and brighten peoples day via funny videos that we post on our social media accounts. Countless people reach out to us and say that his content has become their “virtual therapy” and has really helped get them through some very rough times. We’re hoping to get back to our in person visits to the hospitals and schools to the people that we normally see, but in the meanwhile, online has been our way to pay if forward and makes people happy during this stressful time.
12) What message would you have for someone who is struggling with anxiety, stress, sadness but has never experienced a dog therapy session before?
I think it’s important for everyone to realize that mental health is equally as important as physical health. If you feel that there is something seriously wrong on any level, definitely seek help from a trained professional. That being said, it has been proven that animals definitely reduce stress and anxiety and in many cases, can help people immensely. If you are interested in having pet therapy visit your school, hospital, or place of work, reach out to a local therapy dog organization and they would be happy to schedule visits.
13) Do certain breeds excel as therapy dogs or does it depend on each individual dog?
Therapy dogs come in all shapes, sizes and breeds. What makes a really great therapy dog isn’t the breed, but instead the temperament, personality, and training.
14) Do you think Magnus has benefited from these therapy dog sessions?
Magnus has this natural ability to read people and he can tell when he is making someone happy. You can definitely tell after a therapy visit that he is proud of how he made someone feel.
15) Finally, do you have any other therapy dogs you recommend we check out?
Go check out @liz_the_lab on Instagram!