Therapy Dogs

 

Therapy dogs at hospital

Therapy Dogs

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What is a Therapy Dog?

Therapy Dog Definition:

Therapy dogs are canines that are trained to provide comfort and affection to people in retirement homes, nursing homes, hospices, schools, hospitals and disaster areas, and to people with autism. Therapy Dogs work in animal-assisted activities and animal-assisted therapy, typically alongside their owner/handlers who consider them the canines to be their personal pets.

Therapy dogs come in all shapes, sizes and breeds and they differ from service dogs in many regards.

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Therapy Dog Requirements

Therapy Dogs must:

  • Be well-tempered
  • Well-socialized
  • Enjoy human touch
  • Comfortable in busy or stressful settings
  • Not shed excessively
  • Love to cheer others up!

NOTE: Due to liability concerns, most organizations require therapy dogs to be fully certified and temperament tested.

A therapy dog’s primary duty is to make affectionate contact with unfamiliar people in sometimes-stressful environments, and thus, aside from the animal’s training, the most important characteristic of a therapy dog is its temperament.

Therapy dogs must have a calm and stable temperament and must be able to tolerate children, other animals, crowded public places and other situations which may be stressful, without becoming distressed or dangerous.

A good therapy dog must be friendly, confident, gentle in all situations and must be comfortable and contented with being petted and handled, sometimes clumsily.

Additionally, the dog must possess the ability to be lifted or assisted onto an individual’s lap or bed, and must also be able to sit or lie comfortably there.

Read more about Therapy Dog Requirements.

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Types of Therapy Dogs

Reading therapy dog

There are several different types of therapy dogs:

  • Therapeutic Visitation Dogs
  • Disaster Relief Dogs
  • Facility Therapy Dogs
  • Animal Assisted Therapy Dogs
  • Reading Therapy Dogs

Therapeutic Visitation Dogs

“Therapeutic Visitation Dogs” are household pets whose owners take time to visit places like hospitals, nursing homes, schools, detention facilities, and rehabilitation facilities.

Many of the people in such places must be away from home due to physical or mental illness, detention, or court order. For many of these people, a visit from a therapy dog can go a long way to help lift spirits, ease stress, anxiety and depression, and motivate people through providing affection.

Disaster Relief Dogs

Much like Therapeutic Visitation Dogs, Disaster Relief Dogs and their handlers help bring comfort and consolation to people who have suffered a traumatic or violent experience.

Disaster Relief Dogs have also helped provide solace to victims of terrorist attacks, such as the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, the 9/11 attacks, and the Sandy Hook school massacre in Newtown, CT.

Facility Therapy Dogs

“Facility Therapy Dogs” are canines that primarily live and work in nursing homes.

These special types of therapy dogs are often trained to help keep patients with Alzheimer’s disease and other mental illnesses out of trouble. Facility therapy dogs are handled by a trained member of the staff and typically live at the facility.

Animal Assisted Therapy Dogs

“Animal Assisted Therapy” dogs augment physical and occupational therapists in meeting goals important to a person’s physical or mental recovery.

Animal Assisted Therapy dogs typically work in physical rehabilitation facilities and common tasks include helping a patient regain limb motion, fine motor skills and regaining pet care skills for their personal pets.

Reading Therapy Dogs

“Reading Therapy Dogs” are pet dogs that accompany their owner/handlers into schools and public libraries where they assist children who struggle with reading.

Many children who experience reading difficulties develop self-esteem issues or become self-conscious when reading in front of classmates or parents, and the main purpose of a reading therapy dog is to lay beside a child and create a dog-friendly atmosphere that allows students to practice their reading skills in a non-judgmental environment.

Reading therapy dogs not only help children to feel more comfortable and confident when reading, but they also help students become excited about practicing his or her reading skills.

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Therapy Dog Breeds

Therapy dog vest

Although any size dog can make a great therapy animal, small dogs are particularly well-suited for the job because they can be easily lifted onto a person’s hospital bed, or held in the patient’s arms.

When choosing a canine to serve as a therapy dog, the most important things to bear in mind are the animal’s temperament and how easily the dog can be trained. A good therapy dog must have a calm and gentle demeanor and must enjoy human touch.

Although any breed can make a great therapy dog, some of the best breeds for therapy work are:

Small Breeds:

  • Chihuahua
  • Corgi
  • French Bulldog
  • Pug
  • King Charles Spaniel
  • Dachshund
  • Bichon Frise
  • Beagle
  • Yorkie
  • Pomeranian

Large Breeds:

  • Golden Retriever
  • Labrador Retriever
  • German Shepherd
  • Greyhound
  • Rottweiler
  • Saint Bernard
  • Poodle
  • Great Dane
  • Mastiff
  • Bernese Mountain Dog

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Therapy Dog Training

Therapy dog training

Practically any dog, regardless of breed, may be eligible for therapy dog certification, provided that it can pass the required training and temperament testing, such as the American Kennel Club’s Canine Good Citizen Test.

Passing the CGC Test is a requirement for many therapy dog groups, and the official AKC test includes:

Sitting politely for petting

The dog will allow a friendly stranger to pet it while it is out with its handler.

Appearance and grooming

The dog will permit someone to check it’s ears and front feet, as a groomer or veterinarian would do.

Walking on a loose lead

Following the evaluator’s instructions, the dog will walk on a loose lead (with the handler/owner).

Walking through a crowd

This test demonstrates that the dog can move about politely in pedestrian traffic and is under control in public places. The dog and handler walk around and pass close to several people (at least three).

Sit and lay down on command

The dog must do sit AND down on command, then the owner chooses the position for leaving the dog in the stay.

Coming when called

This test demonstrates that the dog will come when called by the handler (from 10 feet on a leash).

Reaction to another dog

This test demonstrates that the dog can behave politely around other dogs. Two handlers and their dogs approach each other from a distance of about 20 feet, stop, shake hands and exchange pleasantries.

Reaction to distraction

The evaluator will select and present two distractions such as dropping a chair, etc.

Supervised separation

This test demonstrates that a dog can be left with a trusted person, if necessary, and will maintain training and good manners.

Evaluators are encouraged to say something like, “Would you like me to watch your dog?” and then take hold of the dog’s leash. The owner will go out of sight for three minutes.

The dog does not have to stay in position but should not continually bark, whine, or pace unnecessarily, or show anything stronger than mild agitation or nervousness.

Read more about Therapy Dog Training.

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Therapy Dog Certification

Therapy dog certification

There are many different organizations which offer therapy dog certification and/or registration, and each organization has its own standards and protocols.

However, all organizations that deal with therapy dog certification typically share common ground in their training and temperament requirements for any therapy dog candidates.

Additionally, some medical institutions require therapy dogs to be registered or certified by an official organization, prior to allowing the dog-handler-team to operate on their premises.

Read more about Therapy Dog Certification.

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Therapy Dog Resources

Be sure to check out our free therapy dog and handler resources, which include:

  • Handler Rights and Responsibilities
  • Therapy Dog Training
  • Therapy Dog FAQ

See the complete collection of Therapy Dog Resources.

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Image credits: Wikipedia Commons

therapy dog benefits

Spending time with animals produces marked improvements in humans, affecting the physical, mental, emotional and social aspects of their well-being. Stress leads to an overproduction of stress hormones, and in-turn increased blood pressure, heart rate, and chance of heart attack and stroke. As you will see in the list, below, a visit with a therapy animal does much to reverse the effects of stress. Visiting with an animal can reduce anxiety without the need for medication, or elicit positive reminiscing in clients with progressed dementia. Therapy animal teams frequently witness measurable improvements as well, for example in visiting with chemotherapy patients in order to lower their blood pressure to a level acceptable for treatment. As we show below, there a multiple therapy dog benefits.

Therapy Dog Benefits- Mental Benefits

 Decrease in stress and anxiety, including that from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

 Decrease in depression, loneliness and feelings of isolation

 Decrease in aggressive behaviors

 Increase in socialization with an outward focus, including opportunities for laughter and a sense of happiness and well-being

 Increase in mental stimulation, attention skills, and verbal interactions

 Increase in spirit, self-esteem, and feeling of acceptance, enabling a patient to further participate in mental and physical therapy, to be more involved in group activities, and to accept social and emotional support

Therapy Dog Benefits- Physical Benefits

 Decrease in blood pressure

 Decrease in heart rate

 Decrease in the stress hormone cortisol

 Increase in hormones associated with health and a feeling of well-being, including beta-endorphin, beta-phenylethylamine, dopamine, oxytocin, prolactin and serotonin

 Increase in level of fitness by providing stimulus for exercise, with improvement in activities in which they were limited

 Improvement in fine motor skills, standing balance, wheelchair and other physical skills

In addition, the benefits listed above may result in a decrease in a person’s need for medications.

therapy dog breeds

Although any size dog can make a great therapy animal, small dogs are particularly well-suited for the job because they can be easily lifted onto a person’s hospital bed, or held in the patient’s arms. When choosing a canine to serve as a therapy dog, the most important things to bear in mind are the animal’s temperament and how easily the dog can be trained. A good therapy dog must have a calm and gentle demeanor and must enjoy human touch. Although any breed can make a great therapy dog, some of the best therapy dog breeds are:

Therapy Dog Breeds- Small Breeds:

  • Chihuahua
  • Corgi
  • French Bulldog
  • Pug
  • King Charles Spaniel
  • Dachshund
  • Bichon Frise
  • Beagle
  • Yorkie
  • Pomeranian

Therapy Dog Breeds- Large Breeds:

  • Golden Retriever
  • Labrador Retriever
  • German Shepherd
  • Greyhound
  • Rottweiler
  • Saint Bernard
  • Poodle
  • Great Dane
  • Mastiff
  • Bernese Mountain Dog

Therapy Dog Requirements

Therapy Dogs must:

  • Be well-tempered
  • Well-socialized
  • Enjoy human touch
  • Comfortable in busy or stressful settings
  • Not shed excessively
  • Love to cheer others up!

NOTE: Due to liability concerns, most organizations require therapy dogs to be fully certified and temperament tested.

A therapy dog’s primary duty is to make affectionate contact with unfamiliar people in sometimes-stressful environments, and thus, aside from the animal’s training, the most important characteristic of a therapy dog is its temperament.

Therapy dogs must have a calm and stable temperament and must be able to tolerate children, other animals, crowded public places and other situations which may be stressful, without becoming distressed or dangerous.

A good therapy dog must be friendly, confident, gentle in all situations and must be comfortable and contented with being petted and handled, sometimes clumsily.

Additionally, the dog must possess the ability to be lifted or assisted onto an individual’s lap or bed, and must also be able to sit or lie comfortably there.

therapy dog registration and certification

Therapy Dog Registration and Certification- Certification

Practically any dog, regardless of breed, may be eligible for therapy dog certification, provided that it can pass the required training and temperament testing, such as the American Kennel Club’s Canine Good Citizen Test. Passing the CGC Test is a requirement for many therapy dog groups, and the official AKC test includes:

  • Sitting politely for petting
  • Appearance and grooming
  • Walking on a loose lead
  • Walking through a crowd
  • Sit and lay down on command
  • Coming when called
  • Reaction to another dog
  • Reaction to distraction
  • Supervised separation

Therapy Dog Registration and Certification- Registration

A few therapy dog organizations only require that you submit a copy of an AKC certification along with your application in order to register with them. Most organizations, however, require that you be evaluated by members of their own organization.

If an organization offers a training program, it’s a great way to prepare for their evaluation. But whether they do or not, one of the best things you can do to prepare is to volunteer to assist at an evaluation and observe those being evaluated.

One of the most important things you can do during your evaluation, and in the therapy animal work you do afterward, is to be proactive. Most organizations do not treat the evaluation like an obedience trial, where a dog is to perform flawlessly with only minimal direction from its handler. In an evaluation, you are welcome to assist your animal just as you would on the job.

Here are a couple of examples of therapy dog handlers being proactive:

1. If you see another dog enter the room, tell your dog so it doesn’t feel the need to tell you with a bark. This is being proactive, rather than acting after your dog barks, which would be reactive. Or doing nothing, which would be inactive.

2. Let’s say three people are aggressively moving toward your dog and asking to pet it. That could be scary! So be proactive, and reach down and pick up your dog or bend down and physically connect with it. It will then feel secure with your contact, and should be fine being petting by any number of people.

Taking these proactive actions is exactly what you will be doing on the job.

The registration process follows training and evaluation, and often requires the submission of a health evaluation form completed by your veterinarian. Completing the process of registering with a therapy animal organization generally ensures that you and your animal are ready to safely serve your community, and that you are being responsible in protecting yourself with insurance.

If an organization doesn’t provide one or more of these services directly, it will guide you to another organization that does. For example, a local organization may provide all the support you need to become a therapy animal team, but they may refer you to a national organization for training, evaluation, registration and/or insurance.

therapy dog training

If you have a dog, it may not need any training at all! Therapy dogs simply have to be very obedient, tolerant, and social. And your dog is all of these things, right?

Dogs are brought to therapy dog evaluations that aren’t even close to being ready for therapy dog work. They bark and pull at other dogs, and have to be taken from the room to get them under control.

If you are unsure if your “best friend” is ready for therapy dog work, the AKC’s Canine Good Citizen® (CGC) Program is a good place to start. Most therapy dog evaluations are similar to or an extension of the CGC test.

If your dog needs additional training, check to see if a local therapy dog organization offers a training program or can refer you to one. Many professional dog trainers offer group classes designed to prepare you and your dog for a therapy dog evaluation.

If you have another species of animal, check with the therapy animal organization you plan to work with to learn about their evaluation so you can determine what additional training, if any, your animal will need.

Training for the handler differs with the different therapy animal organizations. Some require that you attend a training program, while others require that you and your animal attend a training program together. Still others allow you to go directly to an evaluation. Also some organizations allow home schooling on-line or from printed materials.

A few therapy dog organizations only require that you submit a copy of an AKC Canine Good Citizen® (CGC) Program certification along with your application in order to register with them. Most organizations, however, require that you be evaluated by members of their own organization.

If an organization offers a training program, it’s a great way to prepare for their evaluation. But whether they do or not, one of the best things you can do to prepare is to volunteer to assist at an evaluation and observe those being evaluated.

One of the most important things you can do during your evaluation, and in the therapy animal work you do afterward, is to be proactive. Most organizations do not treat the evaluation like an obedience trial, where a dog is to perform flawlessly with only minimal direction from its handler. In an evaluation, you are welcome to assist your animal just as you would on the job.

Here are a couple of examples of therapy dog handlers being proactive:

1. If you see another dog enter the room, tell your dog so it doesn’t feel the need to tell you with a bark. This is being proactive, rather than acting after your dog barks, which would be reactive. Or doing nothing, which would be inactive.

2. Let’s say three people are aggressively moving toward your dog and asking to pet it. That could be scary! So be proactive, and reach down and pick up your dog or bend down and physically connect with it. It will then feel secure with your contact, and should be fine being petting by any number of people.

therapy dogs laws and regristration

Therapy Dogs Laws and Requirements- Laws

A therapy dog is a pet trained to interact with many people other than its handler to make those people feel better. Therapy dogs are also trained to behave safely around all sorts of people, and are often certified.

A therapy dog handler is not given public access rights by any service dog laws to take the dog out everywhere like service dog users, because the handler does not have a disability the dog is individually trained to mitigate. Therapy dogs are only allowed into places like hospitals, skilled nursing facilities, and libraries by prior agreement (again, not by service dog laws).

Therapy Dogs Laws and Requirements- Requirements

Therapy Dogs must:

  • Be well-tempered
  • Well-socialized
  • Enjoy human touch
  • Comfortable in busy or stressful settings
  • Not shed excessively
  • Love to cheer others up!

Therapy Dogs Laws and Requirements- Final Thoughts

A good therapy dog must be friendly, confident, gentle in all situations and must be comfortable and contented with being petted and handled, sometimes clumsily. Therapy dogs must have a calm and stable temperament and must be able to tolerate children, other animals, crowded public places and other situations which may be stressful, without becoming distressed or dangerous. Additionally, some institutions require that any therapy dogs working on their premises be fully insured and trained, and sometimes that they be certified by an accredited organization.

There are many different organizations which offer therapy dog certification and/or registration, and each organization has its own standards and protocols. However, all organizations that deal with therapy dog certification typically share common ground in their training and temperament requirements for any therapy dog candidates. Additionally, some medical institutions require therapy dogs to be registered or certified by an official organization, prior to allowing the dog-handler-team to operate on their premises.