Facts about therapy dog training

How does my dog become a therapy dog?

therapy dog trainingThere are different ways for a dog to become a therapy dog. There are at least two major organizations which screen and train dogs and their handlers to become therapy dogs:  Therapy Dogs International and the Delta Society.  However, many people work with local hospitals, nursing homes, schools, libraries, and other groups to take their dogs for visits as a therapy dog.  Therapy dog training is usually done informally.

What are the general requirements to become a therapy dog?

Dogs usually need to be over a year old so they will be calm.  They need to have some basic obedience training.  The AKC’s Canine Good Citizen test is often recommended since it includes many of the things that therapy dogs are tested for with Therapy Dogs International and the Delta Society.  Dogs also need to pass a veterinarian’s examination.  Therapy Dogs International and the Delta Society also have evaluators which evaluate the dog and the handler to be sure they are suited to becoming a therapy dog team.

Does a dog need to be a purebred?

No.  Any dog can participate.  Other animals are also used for therapy visits.

Are there any special requirements for the people?

Handlers must be 16 or older for the Delta Society.  For TDI, there is no minimum age, but handlers under 18 must be accompanied by an adult on their visits.

Are there other special requirements for the dogs?

TDI will not register deaf dogs. The Delta Society does not allow dogs to be fed a raw food diet.  The Delta Society does not allow wolves and wolf-hybrids to participate.

What is the best way to prepare for therapy dog training?

The Delta Society offers workshops and handler training courses for their program.  They highly recommend them for people who plan to be evaluated in their program.  They also have a home study course with a student manual.  It contains suggestions for activities that are supposed to help the handlers and their dogs be able to pass the evaluation.

TDI doesn’t require or sanction any classes to take their evaluation.  If you have passed the AKC’s Canine Good Citizen test with your dog then you should do well on their evaluation.

What kind of things are considered in the evaluation?

Therapy dog training means your dog should know basic obedience commands such as come, sit, lie down, and stay.  He should have good manners.  Your dog should allow people to approach and talk to you or shake your hand. Your dog should allow people to pet him or use a brush to groom him.

Your dog should be able to walk calmly in public and even through a crowd.  He should walk on a loose leash and heel.  Your dog should not jump on people, sniff people, lick them, sniff or growl. Your dog should not be shy or resistant when someone pets him.

Your dog should be able to go to a dog park and get along with other dogs and people.  If you stop to talk to someone who has a dog, your dog should remain calm and relaxed.

Your dog should remain calm even when unexpected things happen, such as umbrellas popping open or chairs falling over.

Your dog should be comfortable with children and with the elderly.  He should allow people of all ages to pet him and even hug him or pull on his ears or tail.  These are situations he may encounter during therapy visits.

What is the most important thing about a therapy dog?

The most important thing about a therapy dog is the dog’s temperament.  Not every dog is cut out to be a therapy dog.  It takes a dog that is very calm and friendly.  The dog needs to understand that the people he is visiting are special and he needs to treat them gently.  Good therapy dogs seem to naturally understand that they need to be gentle with the people they visit, whether they are small children or the elderly.

Do I have to belong to TDI or the Delta Society to do therapy work with my dog?

No, you don’t. You can talk to hospitals, libraries, and schools in your town to see if they have their own programs.  Some places work with local dog owners and have them visit informally.  As long as you and the people involved are satisfied with each other, there is no reason why you can’t visit with your dog and make people happy.

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