I have always known that my dog is something special. Her friendly and loving nature has the power to brighten even the darkest days. Lately, she has been showing a strong desire to become a certified therapy dog and make a positive impact on people’s lives. That got me thinking, how can I make my dog a therapy dog? After doing some research, I discovered that it’s not as complicated as it seems. All I need to do is find a reputable training program, ensure that my dog is well-socialized and obedient, and get certified. From airports to hospitals, there are countless places where my furry companion can provide comfort and support to those in need. The impact of a therapy dog is truly remarkable, from reducing stress and anxiety to improving communication and even helping with memory recall. I am excited to embark on this journey with my dog and witness the incredible impact she will have on others.
What kinds of dogs can be therapy dogs?
All kinds of dogs can be therapy dogs! Big ones, smol ones, floofy ones—you name it. What’s most important is that your dog is well-socialized and loves being around people. Your pup should also have basic obedience skills and know to listen to you whenever things get a little hectic. If you have a well-trained and patient dog who can roll with the punches, he might just be the perfect fit to join the ranks of these heroic healers.
How can my pup learn and get certified?
There are dozens of pawesome training programs where good boys and girls can learn how to spread all their love around to people who need it. A quick internet search will reveal tons of classes in your area. Some of the most common certification programs include Pet Partners and Therapy Dogs International. Therapy dog classes focus heavily on preparing for exams but also prepare you to be the very best handler you can be. In fact, your handling is a huge component of what makes an excellent, safe, and effective therapy team. As for the exam itself, requirements may vary by organization. Be sure to check in with the program you hope to volunteer with to see what they require.
Where can my dog volunteer?
A better question is where can’t your dog volunteer! Wherever people are going through a stressful or challenging experience, you can be sure a kind pup will make an impact. There are about a zillion places your pup can work her magic. Your dog can volunteer at airports helping worried travelers manage their anxiety, in schools when a significant event has impacted the community, in hospitals or nursing homes where people who aren’t feeling their best really need a friendly face—anywhere!
Pet Partners, the leading therapy animal organization in the U.S., has incredible and innovative programs that brings dogs to veterans, clients with Alzheimer’s, people working on their literacy, and much more.
What impact can a therapy dog have?
A therapy dog’s presence is always felt. Many folks who have the opportunity to work with a dog-handler team feel an instant burst of joy, but the benefits can also be deep and long-lasting. These benevolent pups can improve communication, reduce stress and anxiety, boost literacy rates, encourage mobility, and provide hope and happiness. “For many patients, pet therapy visits are simply a day-brightener,” explains Cortney Kostreba, Volunteer Specialist at Fairview Home Care and Hospice in Minneapolis. “Patients who formerly owned dogs especially love visits from a furry friend. Pet therapy can help decrease stress and anxiety, including that from PTSD,” she adds.
The impact of these positive puppers is so profound that it can even affect our brains. “Pet therapy can also be cognitively stimulating and assist patients in recalling memories,” Cortney says. “We especially notice this with our Alzheimer’s and dementia patients.”
Your dog’s company can provide so many incredible benefits to the people you serve.
Qualities and Skills of a Therapy Dog
To be a successful therapy dog, your pup needs to possess certain qualities and skills. They should be naturally friendly, approachable, and enjoy being around people. A therapy dog should also be calm, well-behaved, and have a stable temperament. They must be able to remain calm in various situations and not be easily startled or aggressive. Additionally, a therapy dog should be adaptable and able to handle different environments, including crowded places, loud noises, and unfamiliar settings.
Socialization and Obedience Training
Socialization and obedience training are vital for therapy dogs. Socialization helps expose your pup to different people, animals, and environments, ensuring they are comfortable and confident in various situations. It helps them develop good social skills and manners. Obedience training teaches your dog basic commands, such as sit, stay, come, and leave it. It also helps them learn how to walk politely on a leash and behave appropriately in public. A well-socialized and obedient dog is more likely to succeed as a therapy dog.
Certification Programs for Therapy Dogs
To become a certified therapy dog, you will need to enroll in a certification program. There are various organizations that offer therapy dog certification, such as Pet Partners, Therapy Dogs International, and Alliance of Therapy Dogs. These programs typically require you and your dog to pass an evaluation and demonstrate your dog’s obedience, temperament, and suitability for therapy work. The evaluations may involve simulated therapy visits and assessments of your handling skills. Each organization has its own requirements and guidelines, so be sure to choose a program that aligns with your goals and values.
Preparing for Therapy Dog Exams
Preparing for therapy dog exams involves a combination of training, practice, and familiarization with the requirements of the specific certification program you are pursuing. It is important to work on reinforcing your dog’s obedience skills, socialization, and exposure to various environments. Practice obedience commands, such as sit, stay, down, and come, in different locations and distractions. Introduce your dog to different types of people, including children, the elderly, and individuals with disabilities. It is also helpful to practice simulated therapy visits to get your dog accustomed to the activities and interactions they may encounter during actual visits.
Choosing the Right Volunteer Opportunities
When choosing volunteer opportunities for your therapy dog, consider your dog’s strengths, preferences, and compatibility with different populations. Some dogs may excel in environments with children, while others may thrive in hospital or nursing home settings. It is important to assess your dog’s comfort level and assess any potential risks or challenges they may face in specific settings. Additionally, consider the time commitment and scheduling requirements of different volunteer opportunities. Choose opportunities that align with your availability and ensure you can commit to regular visits.
Benefits of Therapy Dog Visits
The benefits of therapy dog visits are extensive and far-reaching. These visits can provide comfort, emotional support, and a sense of connection to individuals who may be experiencing loneliness, stress, or illness. Therapy dogs have been shown to reduce anxiety, lower blood pressure, and improve overall well-being. They can also enhance social interactions and improve communication skills, particularly for individuals with autism spectrum disorders or speech disabilities. Additionally, therapy dog visits can boost morale and create a positive and uplifting atmosphere in various settings, such as hospitals, schools, and rehabilitation centers.
Overall, therapy dogs play a crucial role in promoting healing, providing companionship, and making a positive impact on the lives of those in need. Their unconditional love and support bring joy and comfort to individuals facing difficult or challenging circumstances. If you have a dog with the right qualities and skills, consider exploring the world of therapy dog work and experience the incredible difference you and your pup can make in the lives of others.