Do you and your dog have what it takes to be an animal assisted therapy team? The ideal therapy dog is well-trained, well-socialized, and truly loves people. A therapy dog must be able to adjust well to new environments while staying attentive to a human handler.
Getting Started as a Therapy Dog
Therapy dogs work with a dedicated handler. This is often, but not always, the dog's owner. If you want to become a therapy team with your dog, you must both complete thorough training. A great way to begin is to participate in the AKC Canine Good Citizen Program (CGC). This certification shows that your dog is socialized, friendly and has adequate basic training. In fact, CGC certification is a prerequisite for many therapy dog programs.
Next, you should develop your dog's training and proof her behaviors well. Your dog must be able to stay relaxed and happy amidst loud noises, movement (of both people and objects), all kinds of medical equipment, and any other potential distractions. Most of all, you should always be able to get and keep your dog's attention when needed. You may wish to find a therapy dog training class run by an experienced, knowledgeable dog trainer.
Therapy Dog Certification Process
While you are training your dog to become the ideal therapy dog, start researching official animal assisted therapy organizations. Two internationally recognized groups are Pet Partners and Therapy Dogs International. Many cities and regions have their own therapy programs, so do some research.
Each animal assisted therapy group is a little different. Learn about the groups and find out which seem to be the best fit for you and your dog. Each group has its own set of standards, required courses, and special testing before a dog and handler can become a registered therapy team. Different groups will have different therapy programs available in your area, so your choice may be influenced by where you and your dog could go.
Therapy dogs must also meet specific health requirements. At the very least, your dog should have current vaccinations, be on routine heartworm and flea prevention, and have a clean bill of health from your veterinarian.
Once the dog and handler complete all requirements, they must go through a final evaluation, or series of evaluations, to become an official animal assisted therapy team. The process can be very involved and sometimes quite difficult, but it should be worth it in the end.
When Your Dog Becomes a Therapy Dog
Once you and your dog have passed all requirements and become a therapy team through your chosen organization, you can begin visiting facilities. Locations may include hospitals, nursing homes, schools, children's homes and more. Visits and schedules are typically arranged through your organization.
Once you get out there and start making a difference, you'll be glad you took the time to go through the process. Being an animal assisted therapy team can be one of the most rewarding experiences of your life!