Therapy dogs provide comfort to people struggling with physical or emotional problems through healthy interactions such as petting or playing with the animal. When a person interacts with a therapy dog, their serotonin and dopamine levels increase, making them feel calmer and more relaxed. Therapy dogs may visit people in their homes, hospitals, schools, rehabilitation centers or nursing homes.
Although it isn’t a requirement, some therapy dog owners dress their canines in personalized pet products like doggie shirts or bandanas for easy identification and to better distinguish them from regular pets. Wearing these cute accessories can also make the dog look more approachable and friendly.
If you believe your furry pal can be a source of comfort and joy to other people, consider training them to become a therapy dog. To qualify, a dog must be completely healthy and pass an obedience test by a certified evaluating body. Also, your pet must be at least a year old to be a candidate for a therapy dog as dogs of this age are not as excitable as young puppies. In case your four-legged pal is still very young, you can still start their training. Following these four tips can help them prepare to become good therapy dogs in the future.
Your Dog Must Follow Basic Commands
Dogs of all sizes and breeds can make good therapy animals. Small breeds are ideal for snuggling as they can easily fit into people’s laps. On the other hand, larger dogs are best for playful interactions. They can also be used for engaging with people who are bed-ridden or in wheelchairs because they’re at an ideal height.
While there aren’t any restrictions on the dog size and breed, therapy dogs must possess a certain temperament. They must be friendly and obedient even if they’re in an unfamiliar environment or interacting with strangers. Also, therapy dogs must be well-trained and responsive to basic commands like “sit” and “stay”. They must also know to come when called and to leave an object alone on cue. The latter command is especially important for environments like hospitals, where there are medications and other items that can harm your dog if accidentally ingested.
When training your dog with these basic commands, make sure to reward them with treats. It will help instill the training and encourage your pet to repeat the good behavior in the future.
Make Sure They Are Highly Socialized
Since your dog will be interacting with many people, they need to be friendly with everyone, including strangers. The only way to ensure your dog continues to have good interactions is if they’re highly socialized. To do this, introduce your pup to new people, places, surfaces and objects. Take them for walks in different pet-friendly places aside from the nearest dog park. Also, let them experience walking on surfaces with different textures like tiles, linoleum, wood, and grass so they become comfortable in various environments.
Additionally, expose your pup to all types of people. Let your pet meet people of different ages and appearances or who may be differently-abled. Wheelchairs, canes, eyeglasses, hoods and even beards can be confusing for some dogs so it’s important that your training includes exposure to these features. This way, your dog won’t be fearful or nervous when they encounter individuals wearing or using these items.
Refer to the Canine Good Citizen Test
When preparing a training plan for your dog, you can use the American Kennel Club’s (AKC) Canine Good Citizen program as a guide. Typically, many therapy dog organizations use the following scenarios to test canine obedience:
- The dog allows a friendly stranger to approach them.
- The dog has no trouble walking on a loose leash with their owner.
- The dog shows good behavior when they approach another dog owner with their pet.
- The dog can walk through a crowd with their owner without showing any negative behavior toward other people.
- The dog isn’t easily distracted and can concentrate on their tasks.
Seek the Help of Other Trainers
When training your pup to become a therapy dog, you have the option to train them yourself or with the help of another animal handler who has more experience with therapy dogs. You can also look for dog trainers who can do half of the training with you. If private training is outside of your budget, you can join a group Canine Good Citizen class through your local AKC dog club. You can also check out therapy dog organizations for information about available obedience training and classes near your area.
Many people struggling with various health issues rely on therapy dogs to provide them with comfort and affection. The calm and friendly presence of therapy animals helps an individual stay at ease, which can contribute to their healing and recovery. If you believe your pup has the potential to be a great therapy dog, you can begin their training today. By following these tips, you can help your beloved pet become a furry friend to others as well.
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