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What is involved in therapy dog training?




Research suggests that dog owners may be in a better mood. According to several studies people who own dogs tend to be less stressed and depressed. Although more research needs to be done, it seems dogs have a very positive affect on human health, particularly when it comes to emotions.

And this is where therapy dogs come in.

Therapy dogs are not the same as service dogs. While service dogs perform daily tasks for the disabled, the job of a therapy dog is to be caring, affectionate and bring joy to people in hospitals, nursing homes and other patient-care facilities.

Although owners can make the rounds spreading a little happiness with their dog on an informal basis, some facilities require that dogs be certified.

Before you beginning the process of certification, Mary Galloway, veterinarian, behaviorist and founder of the Fairfax County Pets on Wheels, says you must know your dog first. Is your dog comfortable with people and able to handle new situations? Is he or she comfortable around other dogs and can tolerate loud or unfamiliar noises without bolting for the nearest door? Once you are satisfied that your dog's temperament is perfect for a therapy dog, check your local area for certification organizations. Therapy Dog, Inc. and PetPartners (formerly Delta Society) are two national organizations, which will help you locate services in your area.

Your local evaluator will determine if your dog is right for the job by evaluating if your dog:

  • Is comfortable being in crowds
  • Is friendly and confident
  • Will initiate contact and stay engaged
  • Is able to cope with stressful situations
  • Doesn't jump up on people
  • Is comfortable being touched, at times awkwardly
  • Is able to disregard food or toys on cue
  • Feels comfortable around health care equipment

Commands such as sit, down, stay, come and leave it must be part of your dog's repertoire and as the handler you need to be able to know your dog well enough to pick up signs of stress and be able to reassure your pet. Dogs must also have a current rabies certificate and be up to date on all immunizations, which are considered necessary by your state and veterinarian.

With certificate in hand, you can now register you and your dog as a Therapy team with one of the national therapy dog organizations. Registration allows you to enroll in an insurance program for Therapy Dogs, which many facilities require.


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