The health benefits of dogs are many, and we are just starting to realize how helpful they are to us. Therapy dogs bring people comfort when they are lonely or grieving the loss of a loved one. They also offer affection to people in hospitals and nursing homes. And, did you know that people who have a dog are happier than those who don’t? So, if your dog is friendly and well-behaved, you should learn how to train your dog to be a therapy dog so that you could spread the love, too.
What is a Therapy Dog?
A therapy dog is NOT a service dog. Service dogs provide a service that they are specifically trained for and work with people of all ages with special needs or disabilities.
By the same token, therapy dogs are also NOT emotional support animals–animals that aren’t certified or have any special training. For people to acquire such dogs, a doctor or mental health expert must first prescribe one.
Instead, therapy dogs provide affection and love to people in an institution, like hospitals, because of a medical condition. This condition could be either physical or emotional, but whatever the case, they rely on visits to deal with their problem.
So, when therapy dogs pay a visit to a facility or even a disaster zone, for example, they bring a whole lot of goodness to the people they visit.
In fact, in addition to reducing anxiety in patients, they also increase endorphin and oxytocin levels! But that’s not all they can do. They could even help lower heart rate and blood pressure.
If you think that this heroic work therapy dogs do is just good for people, think again. There have been studies that indicate that the endorphin and oxytocin levels are higher in these dogs than in pets.
A Process Involved
Unfortunately, no matter how mild-mannered your dog is, you can’t just show up at a hospital, even if it is your relative.
That’s because therapy dogs require certification from a national organization.
All this means is that there is a process involved with regards to a pet becoming a therapy dog. This process includes some training and assessing the dog’s temperament, among others.
For starters, for a dog to become a therapy dog, they must have reached adulthood. So, Also, just because your dog is the sweetest thing on four legs, it doesn’t mean she’ll be an ideal candidate for therapy work. And remember, your dog doesn’t do this alone–you are part of this team that will be assessed by an organization.
Dogs must pass the Canine Good Citizen test (CKG) of obedience in order to be considered a candidate for this line of “work.” Some organizations demand that the dog pass other tests.
For instance, a dog must have the ability to interact with kids in a friendly manner to pass the test. Also, she will have to be able to “leave it” on command. If not, she won’t succeed in becoming the next loving therapy dog.
Basic obedience is critical, but so is having a natural social temperament. Additionally, these dogs should be relatively calm, not bouncy, and they should look like they’re interested in the work.
If you carefully observe dogs, then you’ll know that most love doing jobs. They like pleasing people, but not all will like this particular job.
Can Your Dog Make a Good Therapy Dog?
The most important observation is whether your dog likes people besides her own family? Does she like people to give her affection, and does she enjoy interacting with strangers in different environments?
Is your pet calm no matter where she is? Would she be able to calmly seek affection from someone, for instance, in a nursing home? Can she remain calm in any setting? How is she with different sounds and noise levels?
What Makes a Good Therapy Dog Handler?
When there’s a therapy dog, there’s a handler, too. That’s because this a team job that helps out people around you.
It could start by taking a cognitive dog training course to prepare the handler to better connect with a client. And, keep in mind that this is a good experience for the handler, too!
To know what is required of you and your dog, it’s essential to learn from a handler who’s well versed in training a therapy dog.
An experienced dog handler can often play unexpected roles when working together with a therapy dog.
Therapy dog organizations should have their own website loaded with information to help you prepare, to some degree, in advance.
How Therapy Dogs are Trained?
Whether you choose to train your dog yourself or with some help is up to you. Getting help from trainers with an excellent reputation and who are recommended by a formal organization would come for a price.
This could be an expensive undertaking, but it will be well worth it in the end.
But, if the price is not within your budget, use the internet to your benefit. There are informative videos on YouTube and other platforms loaded with tips and how to’s regarding the ten basic commands to pass the CGC test.
Remember that training your dog using positive reinforcement is the most rewarding way to do it. Your dog will always want to keep making you happy, so keep it light and fun.
Go slow! Make sure your dog learns each step before moving forward. Use concise verbal and non-verbal cues and never change them up, or this could confuse your dog and slow the learning process.
Be patient because training a therapy dog is not as easy as you might think. Both you and your pet will have to be committed to this cause.
A good therapy dog doesn’t always start off as a well-trained dog. But, the ones that make it do so because of their temperament.
In most cases, a great starting point would be a well-socialized puppy. Socializing a puppy or dog requires getting her accustomed to different people and places and different textures, surfaces, and objects.
From there, it’s crucial that your dog can walk calmly on a loose leash, understand the “four on the floor” command, as well as “watch me” and “leave it.”
Next, register for therapy dog classes. Not only will this ensure that you and your teammate are ready to go out on visits, but these classes will also provide an evaluation after each class.
When you pass, then it’s time to register with a therapy dog organization. Doing so will open doors to visitations in various places where you and your dog can help people.
A word of advice: keep your dog motivated and stimulated to ensure none of the skills learned are lost.