Emotional Expectations: Could your Pup be a Therapy Dog?
Therapy dogs can be a blessing for people of all ages who are in need. If you're wondering if your dog might be qualified for therapy work, there is likely no doubt that as a team you two can be of service.
It takes more than just a warm smile and a well-behaved dog to do therapy work. Your pup may appear to be perfectly qualified, but therapy dogs must be able to deal with stressful and unpredictable situations for an extended period. Your dog also may be perfect as a therapy dog, at a later stage in life.
The best way to describe the demeanor of a well-qualified therapy dog is balanced. Not too hot, and not too cold. Therapy dogs must be able to handle a wide-ranging world of emotions and actions, from little kids who want to hug as hard as they can, to senior citizens who need gentle comforting. A therapy dog must handle the highs of the happy faces, to the lows of someone who may react abruptly in a negative fashion.
What is a Therapy Dog?
Let’s start with what exactly a therapy dog is, and what one does on a day-to-day basis. Therapy dogs go to nursing homes, schools, and hospitals to do what they do best: put smiles on faces.
A therapy dog is versatile. The best are playful and people lovers who obey their handlers on command and don’t mind strangers putting their hands and body all over them.
It’s also important to note that therapy dogs are not service dogs. A service dog has been trained to assist in one specific manner, and their job is to take care of their human companion. A therapy dog works in conjunction with his handler to spread happiness, relieve stress, and bring comfort to others in need.
What Dogs Can Be Therapy Dogs?
Any mix or breed of dog can be a therapy dog. Whether or not your pup should become a therapy dog depends on a variety of questions that you must answer for both yourself and your dog.
Dog therapy is not a one-way street where you walk in for a therapy session, and your dog does everything. Therapy with dogs is a collaborative effort that requires your time, patience and passion for the work.
The first box to check in evaluating therapy-worthiness is, does your dog have impeccable manners?
If the answer to that is, “sometimes” then, your pooch might not be ready for therapy work.
Dogs that get overly excited when they greet new people will not be suited for therapy. The last thing you want is to leave the hospital with an injured patient because your dog knocked them over.
Therapy dogs have to be cool under pressure at all times, from vice-lock hugs given by a gaggling of children to a sharp pinch on the ear from an elderly patient. When the unexpected happens, your dog needs to brush it off like it was nothing.
Therapy dogs are people lovers first and foremost. A therapy dog sees a human and thinks “another friend!” The best therapy dogs will never get bored with the next human that wants to come up to them, either with love, or with hysterics.
Ask yourself the following questions about your dog:
- Does your dog enjoy meeting strangers?
- Is your dog calm when meeting new people?
- Will your dog obey your commands on cue?
- Is your dog OK with being touched anywhere on their body by new people?
- Will your dog ignore other dogs and focus on the therapy?
If the answer to all those questions was yes, then read on.
Will My Dog Enjoy Therapy?
If your dog is friendly, well-mannered and well-trained and you're still reading this, it's likely you two would make a good therapy team. You know your dog best though, so make sure that your dog's personality lends itself to enjoying these trips.
Therapy dogs are one half of a team. No matter how perfect your dog may be for therapy, don’t forget that you are an integral part of the equation. Your passion for going on therapy visits is essential to handling your dog and giving those you visit the best possible experience.
If everything comes together and you think both you and your dog are well-suited to therapy work, the world is about to become a happier place.
The work you can do with your therapy dog is limitless, and so are the smiles you can put on people of all ages. Therapy work with your dog will be an incredibly rewarding experience for you, for those you visit, and for your dog. That's what you call a win-win-win, and it doesn’t get much better than that. It takes a special dog and a dedicated handler to become a therapy team, but when it comes together the world becomes a better place.
To start the training and certification process for becoming a therapy dog and handler team, here’s a list of AKC recognized therapy dog organizations.
Dogs thrive on being a working member of their pack. Make basic obedience your dog's job and both you and your dog will be happier for it.