Any breed of dog can be trained to be a therapy dog. Whether you have a large breed or small breed, your dog will need lots of training to get started. They should go through a behavior class and learn the basic commands: sit, stay, come. There are private trainers, and some pet stores offer the classes as well. You can research online to see what is available to you.
After your dog has been thoroughly trained and you are considering doing therapy, before you go any further with finding an organization or volunteering, ask yourself, “Would my dog enjoy therapy work? Do they have the temperament for therapy situations?” A good therapy dog is not shy with people, but is calm and loving.
Socialization is essential. Take your dog to dog parks, stores that welcome pets, such as farm stores and hardware stores. These experiences will help them to listen to you when there are people, dogs, and noise going on around them. They should not be distracted, run up to people, sniff shelves and floors or bark.
A therapy dog cannot be aggressive toward people or other dogs. If your dog barks it is usually a warning sign that there is something they don’t like and they are letting you know. If the dog continues to bark, you must take him out of the situation that is causing the dog to react.
Control is important, too. You want to be able to control your dog in any situation that could be harmful to an ill or elderly patient or a child. If you have a happy dog, who loves people be sure you can restrain or redirect your dog, so they don’t jump in a lap or on a bed.
It’s teamwork. As a handler of the dog, you must remember to watch your dog for signs of distress, thirst, fear, etc. A good handler is as important as the dog. Together they form a team people can trust and enjoy.
Remember, not everyone is a dog lover. When you go out on a visit, not everyone will want to visit.
We always ask before we take a dog up to a person. Sometimes people hold out their arms and call the dog to them. People sometimes even ask if the dog can lay on the bed with them.
When we get a request like that, we ask a staff member of the clinic or facility if this is alright to do. Permission is necessary because you don’t know how frail or ill someone can be or if they have a wound or injury.
Wherever you choose to visit I can guarantee you will come home feeling blessed and happy. I often tell my children, “That was the best visit ever.” My granddaughter says, “Grammie, you say that every time.”
Note: Therapy dog requirements vary by therapy organization and by facility. For more information on training and qualifications, check out a few of the national organizations:
- Alliance of Therapy Dogs (formerly Therapy Dogs, Inc.)
- Bright and Beautiful Therapy Dogs
- Love on a Leash
- Pet Partners (previously Delta Society)
- Therapy Dogs Incorporated (TD Inc.) – new name is Alliance of Therapy Dogs
- Therapy Dogs International