There are a great many private dog owners that enjoy spending time with their dogs helping people to recover, reconnect with the world or just spend time with a living animal that loves them regardless of anything else. People that want to volunteer as therapy dog owners and trainers are always in demand and you certainly don't have to have a psychology degree to get started in therapy dog work.
Therapy dogs work in a variety of settings to help children and adults in providing emotional support and assistance as part of a rehabilitation or support service. Some of the many venues that use therapy dogs in working with clients, patients and individuals include nursing homes, hospices, senior citizens centers, hospitals, special needs group homes, schools and even in community centers and half-way houses. These dogs and their owners volunteer time during the day, evening or on the weekend so the dog can spend time interacting with people that can benefit from the unconditional love of a dog.
Not all dogs are suited for the task of being a therapy dog. Just like dogs, not all owners have the time and patience to work with the clients in these very specialized settings. The owners have to commit to both the training of the dog as well as maintaining a regular schedule for the dog to attend the various facilities he or she is working in with patients. This commitment to the process is important as the clients quickly come to see the dog as a source of inspiration and friendship, so being at appointments is the responsibility of the dog owner.
What Types of Dogs Work Best as Therapy Dogs
There is no one breed that is better at being a therapy dog than another and many of the best therapy dogs are not purebreds and are just good old mixed breed dogs. In general the characteristics and temperament as well as the attitude of the dog is much more important than his or her lineage or breeding.
The key component of a therapy dog is that he or she has to be very well trained and obedient in a wide range of situations and environments. Dogs that are not trained, very hyperactive, aggressive or timid are not suitable to work as therapy dogs although they may still make great pets with a bit of additional training and socialization. All therapy dogs have to be calm and gentle and not prone to barking or other behaviors that may be considered to be disruptive in the various settings in which they work.
Therapy dogs can also be of any size although typically they are medium to large sized dogs. Very tiny toy or small sized dogs often don’t have the temperament to be good therapy dogs however each dog is unique with regards to their temperament and level of socialization. In addition very small dogs are at risk in some of the facilities especially with patients in wheelchairs or with walkers and canes as they are so small and could easily cause difficulty for the patients in moving about. Some of the more commonly used types of dogs in therapy situations include the retrievers, spaniels and setters, Standard Poodles and mixed breeds with the Standard Poodle, Sheepdogs, Collies and some of the terrier cross breeds all make excellent therapy dogs.
What Is The Training About?
Since therapy dogs are now well established in many hospitals and care facilities there are several national organizations that monitor and register therapy dogs and their owners. This provides insurance and coverage for the owners and dogs as well as gives the organization the peace of mind of knowing that the dog has met certain training qualifications to be given the title of therapy dog.
The American Kennel Club offers a program called the Canine Good Citizen Test. This test is designed to evaluate how well the dog handles both unusual and very controlled situations. Each dog and owner trains individually for the test or they can take obedience classes to prepare. At the test the dog has to sit on command, allow a stranger to pet the dog while staying seated, lie down on command and stay until called, walk on a loose lead, walk through a crowd, greet unknown people in a friendly and calm fashion, respond to another dog appropriately, allow grooming procedures and to stay in a supervised setting while the owner is out of direct sight and maintain appropriate behavior. In addition to this other tests may be included in the therapy dog title depending on the organization that the dog is registered with.
Most therapy dog groups also have trainings within specific facilities so that dogs become accustom to the sounds, smells and movement of the environment. Dogs will need to learn about wheelchairs and walkers as well as people that talk, move or act in manners that the dog is not used to. Once the dog has completed all the training he or she and the owner is then ready for their first assignments as a therapy dog team.
What Does The Dog Actually Do?
A therapy dog provides a loving living animal for the patients and clients to interact with. The dog owner is really just there for support, the dog simply spends time with the patient and allows a reconnection with something outside of the hospital or facility.
Most therapy dogs become cherished friends for the patients. They enjoy grooming the dogs or just simply sitting and talking to the dog. The dogs may provide the incentive for the patient to go outside for a walk or even move about the room or the facility with a purpose.
The dog just needs to be his or her self. The happy face and wagging tail along with the unconditional love that the dog supplies to the patient is all a part of the therapy and the wonderful opportunities that become available to the patients through working with the dogs. In some cases it may even help patients to form friendships with each other as they relate stories about the therapy dog or dogs they have had in the past to each other.