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August 9, 2011 at 8:00 AMComments: 1 Faves: 0

Could Your Dog Be A Therapy Dog? This is What It Takes!

By Victoria Swanson More Blogs by This AuthorFrom the Paws & Awws Blog Series

"Eric Silva, 9, hugs Bristol during bonding time. Interaction with pet therapy dogs has a calming effect on the kids, who look forward to social skills sessions instead of dreading them, Schuck says." Photo Credit: UCI UC Irvine

I became interested in volunteering back in 2006 when I was laid off from my job. I needed something to occupy my time, and I didn't take me long to decide what. I knew I wanted to volunteer, and I knew I wanted to volunteer with Romeo. So I did what everyone does - I jumped online to do some research!

A therapy dog is a trained dog that essentially provides comfort and helps relieve stress. Therapy dogs work in many organizations - hospitals, nursing homes and schools just to name a few. For people with learning disabilities, or for people that are dealing with stressful situations, a therapy dog session can be extremely beneficial.

Romeo WMTD 001IMG_9189

I knew immediately that Romeo would be the perfect candidate for this very important job. Thus our journey began. Romeo has been a therapy dog since October, 2006 and Izzy October, 2008. I have been truly blessed to have two amazing dogs and it feels really good to be able share them with the community and volunteer.

Are you considering volunteer work with your dog? Here's what it takes to be a GREAT Therapy Dog!

  • Breed: For therapy dogs, breed doesn't matter. They can be a purebred or a mutt. They can be big or small, young or old. However, their temperament has to be the "best of the best".
  • Human Socialization: They must be friendly and accepting of all people.
  • Temperament: They should be gentle, confident and at ease in all situations.They should enjoy being petted and handled, even awkwardly sometimes.
  • Animal Socialization: Therapy dogs must be accepting of all other dogs and cats, as some nursing homes have resident cats that live there.
  • Training: To become a therapy dog, a dog needs to be potty-trained, have basic obedience, and good manners. Their basic obedience (Sit, Stay, Down, Come, and Leave It) must be "sound." Meaning that a dog has to obey these commands on a regular basis and in different environments, not just in the comfort of their own home. Getting a "Canine Good Citizen" certificate is a great way to ensure your dog is heading down the right path of becoming a Therapy Dog.

"Sam Calzada of Clackamas enjoys a visit with Ely, a therapy dog that visits patients at Kaiser Sunnyside Medical Center to provide animal therapy." Photo Credit: The Oregonian

Organizations may invite, limit, or prohibit access by therapy dogs. If allowed, many have rigorous requirements for therapy dogs. Some organizations require that a dog pass a certain amount of tests to be welcomed into their establishment. Romeo and Izzy have passed their American Kennel Club's Canine Good Citizen as well as the West Michigan Therapy Dog Classes and their Pet Partners test.

Certain organizations, such as the Helen DeVos Children's Hospital we visit require that all visiting therapy dogs be "Pet Partners" certified. These tests ensure that a dog can handle sudden loud or strange noises; can walk on assorted unfamiliar surfaces comfortably; are not frightened by people with canes, wheelchairs, or unusual styles of walking or moving; get along well with children and with the elderly; and so on.

We belong to an organization called West Michigan Therapy Dogs. They assist with therapy dog preparation and helping you in finding the best organizations to fit you and your dog's style to volunteer at.

Photo Credit: Cape Fear Dog Training Club: Therapy Dog Program

Different Types of Therapy Dogs

There are two types of therapy dogs - Animal Assisted Activities (AAA) and Animal Assisted Therapy (AAT).

Animal Assisted Activities (AAA) AAA dogs provide fun, entertaining activities that are not treatment driven such as doing silly tricks or just sitting their giving kisses (Izzy's favorite thing to do with people) or just laying their and being petted (Romeo's favorite). These visits last as long or as short as needed. Romeo and Izzy are an Animal Assisted Activities therapy dog.

Animal Assisted Therapy (AAT) AAT dogs assist with specified goals and objectives for an individual, such as someone that is learning to use their hands in physical therapy might brush a dog or throw a ball for the dog. Their progress is documented and directed by a health professional as part of their visit.

Do not confuse a "Service Dog" with a "Therapy Dog." A service dog is a dog that directly assist humans and have legal rights to escort their owners in most places. Service dogs are legally protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. Therapy dogs are NOT recognized by this Act, so therefore are not allowed in public places such as restaurants and other establishments.

Our Volunteer Experience

Photo Credit: The Long and Short of it All

Romeo and Izzy have visited schools, libraries, nursing homes, veterans homes, and assisted living facilities. Currently, only Izzy and I volunteering at Helen DeVos Children's Hospital and Ronald McDonald House. Romeo has recently retired and is enjoying his days as the "King" in our home. Izzy (our little clown) is always excited to go on her next volunteer session with me.

She is a totally different dog when I put her little vest on -  she knows what she has to do.

If you think your dog has what it takes to be a therapy dog, find your local therapy dog placement program and get the "paw" rolling! This could be an exciting opportunity for you and your dog to begin a new journey together!


West Michigan Therapy Dog

Pet Partners

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1 Comment

  • Very informative .... "anyone" that thinks they might have a dog that has just "some" of these traits should investigate further, and I am sure that Victoria would be happy to help you along the way :)

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