Introduction to Therapy Animals
What's the difference? Service Dogs, Emotional Support Dogs and Therapy Dogs
About this Page
Muka and me outside pediatrics
I created this website to help those interested in becoming involved in helping others through therapy animal work, sharing the love and healing power of their dog or other animal with those in need. It is heart-warming work, and we are helpless in our efforts to give more than we receive.
Before continuing, I suggest you read Service Dogs, Emotional Support Dogs and Therapy Dogs, as there is much confusion over the meaning of these terms. And for those interested in becoming a therapy animal team, Getting Started with Pet Partners gives step-by-step instructions on how to become a registered Pet Partners team.
I'd be happy to help you with any questions you have that aren't answered on this or the above mentioned pages.
What Is a Therapy Animal?
Dogs, cats, guinea pigs, rabbits, rats, horses, donkeys, llamas, alpacas, pot-bellied pigs and birds can all be used in therapy animal work. This website was named TherapyDogInfo only because most therapy animals are dogs, and that's what most people will search for on the web.
Therapy animals are best known for bringing affection, comfort and happiness to people in confined living situations, whether they are in a hospital for a short stay or living in an assisted living home.
Sadly, sometimes family and friends are too uncomfortable to visit their ill or aging loved ones because of their condition. Connecting with an animal, petting or cuddling with it, can bring a smile and warm memories to those who feel ill, lonely or neglected.
But therapy animals also serve in many other ways, including helping people with learning difficulties, helping people with mental and physical therapy, and bringing comfort to people in stressful situations such as those recovering from disaster.
Research has shown that contact with a therapy animal helps improve a patient's physical, mental, emotional and social state, which in turn helps them better engage and participate in the process of their treatment and recovery.
Therapy animals come in all shapes and sizes, and their most important characteristic is not their species, breed or appearance, but their temperament. They are friendly, patient, confident, gentle, and at ease with strangers. They provide unconditional acceptance and never fail to put smiles on the faces of children and adults.
A therapy animal must enjoy human contact and excessive petting. And they must be comfortable staying in place, whether it is on a floor, chair, couch, bed or lap, or in their handler's arms. Therapy animals do not need to perform, though a few simple tricks will surely delight their audiences.
Therapy animals must obey basic obedience commands, and be tolerant of disturbances such as:
Clumsy handling by children and elderly people (though the animal's handler should never let their animal be abused)
Equipment such as wheelchairs, walkers, crutches and canes
Sudden and loud noises
The surprise of seeing another animal in a facility
Therapy animal evaluations generally include disturbances such as those listed above, but the goal is not to have an animal that doesn't react at all. After all, a sudden, loud noise would make you jump! But such disturbances should not cause the animal to panic. And if it does react, with its handler's assurance it should quickly regain composure.
The Healing Effects of Animals
Spending time with animals produces marked improvements in humans, affecting the physical, mental, emotional and social aspects of their well-being.
Therapy animal teams frequently witness improvements in their clients, and occasionally, measurable improvements are witnessed as well. A tangible example would be a chemotherapy patient who can't receive a treatment because their blood pressure is too high. After visiting with a therapy animal, their blood pressure is re-checked and they are found to be ready for treatment.
Here are just some of the healing effects of therapy animal visits:
Decrease in stress and anxiety, including that from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
Decrease in depression
Decrease in loneliness and feelings of isolation
Decrease in aggressive behaviors
Increase in feeling of acceptance, and in-turn the ability to accept social and emotional support
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 and self-esteem, enabling a patient to further participate in mental and physical therapy and to be more involved in group activities
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.
Where and How They Serve
Photo courtesy Columbia River Pet Partners
Hospitals and retirement homes come to mind when most people think of therapy animals. In fact, therapy animals serve in a tremendous variety of venues and circumstances, and the number of ways in which they help people is equally great and varied.
A wonderful way to learn about the different possibilities is to shadow teams as they work. Make arrangements with a local organization to follow teams in a variety of different settings so that you can discover how you and your animal will best enjoy serving.
If you don't have a local therapy animal organization, see if you can make arrangements to shadow through the facilities you might be interested in serving. Your contact will likely be the Volunteer Coordinator or Activities Directory.
Working with very ill children, Alzheimer's patients, or in a hospice sounds like a wonderful way to serve. But if dealing with such circumstances is difficult for you, know that there will be others that will do well with them. Find a venue for your therapy animal work that you and your animal will be comfortable with and enjoy, and you'll be able to give the best you have to offer.
Can a therapy dog visit my relative?
Can I take my therapy dog to work with me?
Photo courtesy Therapy Animals of Redding
Hospitals offer a special opportunity to help people through difficult times. Patients appreciate a warm and loving distraction from their pain and worries, as well as the depression and boredom that can result from a long hospital stay. And you will find that family members are every bit as appreciative. Not only because you are comforting their loved ones, but because they are also going through difficult times and appreciate a break from it themselves.
Waiting rooms provide another opportunity to serve. Relatives and friends of patients may be waiting for very long periods of time during surgeries, all the while worrying about the outcome.
Hospitals have established policies for visiting animals, and may require that teams be registered with a national organization. Some allow teams to visit most any patient who is not in isolation, while others only allow doctor-approved visits.
Hospitals require strict adherence to sanitary guidelines for you and your animal, including hand sanitizing before and after each visit with a patient. When animals are placed on a patient's bed, they are placed on a clean sheet or towel used just for your visit with that one patient. You must also be very careful not to disturb a patient's injury, or medical equipment such as IV tubing.
This video presents an overview of our work at Legacy Salmon Creek Hospital.
Retirement Homes, Assisted Living Homes, Nursing Homes and Hospices
Photo courtesy Pet Partners
The distinction between retirement homes, assisted living homes, nursing homes and hospices is important in that each represents a different group of clients, although the lines are not always clearly drawn. In each of these types of facilities you may visit clients in their rooms, visit with a group of clients in a meeting or living room, or a combination of the two.
Often the clients living in such facilities have little outside contact, and your visit may be the highlight of their week. Many will enjoy sharing memories of animals that have been a significant part of their lives in the past.
Retirement homes generally support independent living, and have the air of a senior citizen center. Assisted living homes provide services such as meals and housekeeping, and assist residents in daily living. And many have a special unit to provide for those with memory issues.
Nursing homes provide all the amenities of assisted living homes, with the addition of skilled nursing care. Hospices provide specialized healthcare that focuses on relieving suffering for patients who are nearing the end of life.
You may find it very difficult, or very rewarding, to work with people in the latter stages of life. It is important for you, your animal, and those you visit that you discover what type of work best suits your comfort level, skills and needs.
Mental and Physical Therapy
Photo courtesy Intermountain Therapy Animals (ITA)
While there are many different ways in which therapy animal work is conducted, a significant distinction is made for those activities in which a health professional is directly involved.
The term animal-assisted activities (AAA) is used to describe activities which typically involve only the handler, their animal, and the client. Examples include visits to patients in hospitals and residents in retirement homes.
Animal-assisted therapy (AAT), on the other hand, is conducted by a health professional who uses the animal in providing their service to the client. Thus a typical session would include the health professional, the client, a therapy animal and its handler.
Animal-assisted therapy further differs from animal-assisted activities in that the sessions are designed to help the client achieve specific goals, such as increased mobility or improved memory. The sessions are documented by the health professional to record activity and progress.
Examples of areas where animal-assisted therapy is used to help clients improve:
Verbal and physical interactions with others (self-expression, cooperation)
Mobility and balance
Mental skills (memory, concentration, problem solving)
Visiting with therapy animals has been shown to lower anxiety and motivate participation. In physical therapy, the client may be motivated to brush the animal or walk with it. In mental therapy, the animal is seen as a friend and ally, thus presenting a safe atmosphere for sharing.
The World English Dictionary defines occupational therapy as follows:
Treatment of people with physical, emotional, or social problems, using purposeful activity to help them overcome or learn to deal with their problems
That nicely sums up the purpose of animal-assisted therapy.
Schools, Colleges and Universities
Therapy animals serve as non-judgmental companions in the process of learning and development. They are used for everything from help with lessons to teaching social skills and responsibility. They help students with emotional problems that interfere with school, including grief and personal crisis.
In some cases, a teacher may be the handler of their own therapy animal, and their animal may spend an entire day at school with them. However, working with students for more than a couple hours would likely be very stressful for the animal. Therefore work time should be limited, and the animal should be provided a quiet, private space to escape to for lengthy breaks.
Can I take my therapy dog to work with me?
The use of therapy animals in colleges and universities has just recently become popular. They are primarily used to reduce stress and depression in students studying particularly difficult curriculums, or studying for exams. Visits with therapy animals have been reported by students to serve as a more healthy method of stress relief, as opposed to stereotypical alternatives such as binge drinking.
Therapy Dogs at Work at the University of Louisiana, Lafayette
Photo courtesy PAWSitive Therapy Troupe
Penelope at the shelter for homeless families
A dog of a different color!
When children read to others, it not only helps to improve their reading, vocabulary and comprehension skills, but also their confidence and self-esteem, allowing them to progress all the more. But children with poor reading skills can become intimidated, too self-conscious and fearful of ridicule to participate. Enter the dog.
In their wonderfully innocent way of thinking, children do not reason that there are others listening; they are simply reading to the dog. They are able to relax and concentrate on the task. Yet all the while the dog's handler is present to help the child with reading and comprehension.
In read-to-dog programs in schools and libraries, children not only find it fun reading to a dog, but they can do so without fear of judgment. The calmness of the dog lessens the anxiety of the child, and the child knows that they will not be criticized or laughed at for their mistakes.
Not all "dogs" in read-to-dog programs are, well, dogs! A number of different species are used.
The sweet-looking bunny you see to the right volunteers at a shelter for homeless families. The shelter attempted to start a read-to-dog program, but found that the inner-city children were afraid of dogs because they were so often used for protection.
Reading Education Assistance Dogs (R.E.A.D.) is a national program that teaches therapy animal handlers how to best help children advance in their reading skills. Handlers complete the training through a home-study course, and half-day workshops are available in many locations across the country.
R.E.A.D. training topics include:
Becoming a more effective literacy team
Making optimal use of your time while keeping it fun
Resolving difficult situations
Establishing a successful library or school program
Using data to demonstrate the power of the program
Logo courtesy R.E.A.D.
Photo courtesy TN Safety Spotters
Crisis response organizations work with emergency response agencies to place therapy dog teams in disaster areas. The teams provide comfort, emotional support, and hope to the victims of the disaster, as well as to the emergency responders.
Disaster victims often shut down emotionally and stop thinking clearly. The presence of a dog, and especially physical contact with one, can help calm a person, which allows them to think more clearly. They are then in a better position to communicate their needs to emergency responders.
Teams are specially trained to work in stressful, unpredictable environments.
The First Therapy Dog
When Bill Wynne was serving with the 5th Air Force, 26th Photo Recon Squadron in New Guinea in 1944, a friend found a 4-pound Yorkshire Terrier in a foxhole. Bill adopted the little dog and named her Smoky.
Smoky, Bill, and American Red Cross nurse Barbara Wood Smith with a hospital patient
Photos © 2013 William A. Wynne, used by permission
Smoky suffered all the hardships and dangers of war, flying with Bill throughout the Pacific and living off his C-rations. But even when Bill was working 12-hour shifts 7 days a week, there was down time, and Bill and Smoky spent much of it having fun learning tricks together.
If you have trained a dog to do a trick or two, you will appreciate that Bill was able to teach Smoky all their wonderful tricks without using treats. As a solder in the Pacific during WWII, Bill didn't have any treats to use!
One time when Bill was hospitalized with a jungle disease, his army buddies brought Smoky to see him. Smoky's antics brought great pleasure to the other patients, and the nurses asked if Smoky could stay with Bill, sleeping on his bed.
Bill was "flat on his back" ill, but the nurses wanted Smoky to accompany them as they tended to incoming casualties from the Biak Island invasion. Commanding Officer Major Dr. Charles W. Mayo, of the famed Mayo Clinic, gave the okay.
This was a pivotal moment in the history of therapy dogs. In allowing Smoky to stay in the hospital, Dr. Mayo recognized both the healing power and joy that a dog could bring to patients, and that it was safe to have a dog in a medical environment.
Word spread about this amazing team, and Bill and Smoky got a second invitation while they were on leave in Brisbane, Australia. They were staying at an American Red Cross facility, and nurse Barbara Wood Smith asked them to visit the sailors and marines at the 109th Fleet Naval Hospital.
Their very successful experience at the hospital marks a direct trail to the therapy dog work that we know today. An Animal Planet investigation determined Smoky to be the first therapy dog of record.
Smoky was much honored for her services during the war, and Yank Down Under magazine named her the "Champion Mascot in the Southwest Pacific Area." In fact it was this recognition that helped influence the decision to allow Smoky into the first hospital. You can read more about Bill and Smoky's war history in Wikipedia under Smoky (dog).
After the war, Bill and Smoky continued their work, visiting veterans' hospitals throughout the 40s and into the 50s. Beyond their services to the military, Bill and Smoky became popular on TV, and their continued adventures eventually led them to Hollywood. If you love dogs, you'll enjoy reading more of Bill and Smoky's story in Bill's book, Yorkie Doodle Dandy.
Smoky and the Dogs of All Wars Memorial in Cleveland
Therapy Animal Organizations
Photo courtesy Columbia River Pet Partners
A woman said she had a therapy dog.
She explained that she had been taking her dog on visits to see her mother, who resided in an assisted living home. Everyone at the facility fell in love with her dog and looked forward to their weekly visits. So when her mother passed away, she continued her visits with the other residents.
Was her dog a therapy dog? Sure, why not? It certainly did the work. But as you will read, there are a number of good reasons to register with a therapy animal organization. In addition, most facilities require that you be registered with an organization in order to visit their facility.
If you have a local therapy animal organization in your area, or a chapter or affiliate of a national organization, you may find it rewarding to become a member and enjoy the camaraderie and support of fellow members. A local organization will be active in your community, helping to find facilities that are seeking therapy animal team visits and placing teams in those facilities.
As a member of a local organization, you will also have the opportunity to enjoy participating in such activities as training classes, evaluations, fundraising, and community events. See Local Therapy Animal Organizations to see if there's a local organization near you.
Requirements and Rules
Photo courtesy Prescription Pets
Therapy animal organizations each have their own requirements and rules you must follow in order to become a member and to be protected by their insurance policy.
To get an idea what an evaluation might be like, the AKC's Canine Good Citizen® (CGC) Program is a good place to start. Most therapy animal evaluations are similar to or an extension of the CGC test designed for dogs.
That said, organizations do differ in many ways. For example, some require that both the animal and handler be evaluated, while others only evaluate the animal. And some require periodic evaluations, while others only require that your registration be renewed every year or two.
Here are some other examples of the requirements and rules of various organizations:
Minimum age requirements for you and your animal
Your animal must be spayed or neutered
Your animal may not be fed a raw protein diet
Your animal must have a record of vaccination in accordance with your vet's recommendations
Your animal must be bathed before each visit
You and your animal must wear ID while on the job
Your animal must be kept on a leash of a maximum length while on the job
You may not serve under the auspices of a second organization
Altogether, the list sounds very limiting. Remember that these are just examples, and that they do not apply to all organizations. Nevertheless, if one of them is an issue for you, you will want to consider it in selecting an organization to work with.
Photo courtesy Paws to Heal
Unfortunately, especially in the very litigious United States, we have to worry about being sued even when we aren't at fault. Also, while your animal might never bite someone, their nails or even their teeth could scratch them accidentally. And we have to be especially careful with the elderly who may have thinner, softer, less elastic skin.
If you have a homeowner's policy, it may include coverage for just such an accident. However, if you file a claim for an animal bite, you may then be required to either get rid of your animal or change insurance companies.
Of course not everyone has a homeowner's policy, or one with adequate coverage. And even for those who do, being covered by a policy designed for therapy animals might be the wiser choice.
So before registering with a therapy animal organization, be sure to find out if they offer insurance that will cover any liability you might be exposed to in the work you plan to do with your animal.
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.
Either way, arrange to shadow other teams, following them on their rounds at the facilities they visit. It's not only a great way to learn, but it's a great way to choose the type of facility that you and your animal are best suited to enjoy working in.
How do I train my puppy to be a therapy dog?
Photo courtesy Hidden Oaks Llama Ranch
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. If the organization only allows members to assist, then go as an observer.
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 connect with it if it's larger. 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.
This video provides a demonstration of a Pet Partners evaluation and will give you an idea of how an evaluation is conducted. Total playtime for all exercises: 16:45
Registration or Certification
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.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
Can a therapy dog visit my relative?
Visiting in an assisted living home
Please understand that therapy animals are owned by private individuals who share their animals as volunteers. Most have regular times they visit certain facilities and are not accustomed to filling special requests.
That said, it doesn't hurt to ask. However, whether your relative is at home or in facility is an important factor to consider.
At Home: Most therapy animal teams do not make visits to private homes out of concern for both their safety and liability. If they are registered with an organization like Pet Partners, in-home visits are generally not permitted and a team would not be covered by Pet Partners' insurance should they make such a visit.
The exception to this rule is when a person is receiving care from a health care organization at home as is common with in-home hospice care. In such a case an in-home visit may be possible, but only during a time when a representative of the health care organization is present.
In a Facility: If your relative is in a facility, the facility may already be facilitating therapy animal visits and will be happy to schedule one for your relative. If not, they may or may not allow a registered therapy animal team to visit.
Often, especially under special circumstances, a facility will allow a family to bring a pet from home for a visit. For example, a hospital might allow a patient's dog to visit if they are extremely ill or have been hospitalized for a very long time. In permitting such a visit, the facility will likely ask to see vaccination records.
Who to Contact: If your relative is in facility, start there. If you want to contact a local therapy animal organization, check my list Local Therapy Animal Organizations. If you don't find one in your area, Google therapy dogs and the name of your city, or the nearest large city.
Can I take my therapy dog to work with me?
Pet Partners handlers volunteering at a school, wearing their ID tags and with their dogs on leashes. Photo courtesy Prescription Pets
The answer depends on the policies of the organization that has registered your therapy dog. For Pet Partners, the organization I register my therapy dog with, the answer is no. You can't take your therapy dog to work under the auspices of Pet Partners, or be covered by Pet Partners insurance.
However, many people still register their dogs with Pet Partners so that their employers will allow them to take their dogs to work. To understand this, let's begin by looking at three Pet Partners policies:
1. Handlers Can't Be Receiving Pay during the Time They Are Visiting with Clients: All Pet Partners visits are made by volunteers, and if a handler is "on the clock," receiving compensation, they can't be visiting under the auspices of Pet Partners with Pet Partners insurance coverage.
2. Two-hour Visit Limit: A Pet Partners team may visit a maximum of two hours per day.
Why the two-hour limit? That's what I asked after raising my puppy with long Saturday afternoons at our busy park. We'd walk and play and visit with other families for many hours and did just fine. I didn't understand the two-hour limit until I started visiting clients.
At the park, I'd often followed my dog's interests. But at the hospital where we volunteer, I'm in strict control from the moment we arrive to the moment we leave. We go only where I decide we should go, and visit only the people I decide we should visit.
My dog loves to say hello to everyone in a waiting room, but there are always a few who are not interested. And when I plop him down on a bed, as soon as his feet hit the barrier (a sheet placed on the bed just for the visit) I may discover that he's uncomfortable with the patient for some inexplicable reason. He'll turn his head up to me with that "get me out of here" look.
All this is very stressful for a dog, and I have found that it's often just before the two-hour mark that my dog starts to show signs of stress. Those who do take their dogs to work for the day often avoid this stress by allowing their dogs to roam freely. But this is also in conflict with Pet Partners' policy.
3. Dogs Must Be On-leash: When a team is visiting under the auspices of Pet Partners, the dog must be on-leash with the leash being held by the handler at all times, something obviously impractical for a working employee.
Okay then, if handlers can't take their dogs to work under the auspices of Pet Partners, why do they register them with Pet Partners?
I'll answer that question with a few examples:
Teachers and School Counselors: I very frequently hear of teachers who take their dogs to school and let them hang out in their classroom all day long. And school counselors who let their dogs hang out in their offices. These dogs are generally off-leash, and so able to avoid stressful situations at will.
Clearly these individuals and their dogs are not working as Pet Partners teams, but the employers have asked that the dogs be registered as a means of screening.
Psychiatrists: Similarly, a psychiatrist may register their dog in order to satisfy their employer, insurance company or patients, but they clearly cannot be working as Pet Partners teams.
Law Enforcement Officers: In addition to his regular work, an officer volunteers in a support group that visits officers who have been injured in the line of duty, or their families. The officer registered his dog with Pet Partners so that his organization would accept it as being qualified for therapy dog work.
In practice, most of the officer's work with the support group falls during his regular work hours. Because he is being compensated, he is not able to do this work under the auspices of Pet Partners, nor is he covered by Pet Partners insurance. But this is fine with his organization, which provides its own insurance coverage.
When the officer makes these visits on weekends and other times he's not being compensated, he visits under the auspices of Pet Partners.
How do I train my puppy to be a therapy dog?
My Family Visiting Some Puppies
Not Quite Ready to Be a Therapy Dog
Socialization: It's important that your dog become comfortable with big people and little people, people of all ages and colors and sexes. People with huge hair and no hair at all! Big floppy hats and thick-framed Ray-bans. Start today! In fact the good breeders I work with start this as soon as the puppies are born, inviting all their neighbors over to visit frequently.
Your dog, or other species, should also become familiar with other animals in the same way. Though you have to be cautious until early vaccinations are complete, which is why for dogs a puppy class may be a safe solution. Or visit with other animals you know will be safe.
Lastly, become familiar with all the exercises in the evaluation so that you don't miss something. My sweeter dog, the true cuddle bug, doesn't like strangers to hug him. But I didn't know this until I actually started testing him with the exercises of the evaluation. Obviously I hadn't thought to train for it in the first place.
Training: You might benefit from a professional training course for therapy dogs, but what's needed is simply good, basic obedience walk at your side, sit, down, stay, come, leave it, and take treats nicely.
While some Pet Partners instructors conduct extended courses that include the dogs, Pet Partners training is designed for the two-legged half of the team. Again, this is because only the most basic obedience is required of the animal.
Students often take my course before their puppies are a year old, the minimum age at which they can take the evaluation. They do this to ensure that they are well-prepared in how to raise them.
How to Get Involved
Photo courtesy Kamlu Retirement Inn
If there are local therapy animal organizations in your area, contacting one of them is the best way to learn about opportunities to serve in your area. They will be able to tell you how you can register with them, or with one of the national organizations they work with. Even if you wish to work independently under the auspices of a national organization, they will serve as a good source of local information.
If you can't find a local therapy animal organization on my list, contact some of the facilities in your area and ask them what local or national organizations are represented by the therapy animal teams that visit their facility.
I began working under the auspices of my local Humane Society. Then when I wanted to work in a hospital, I found that our local hospitals only accepted registration with the national organization Pet Partners. I created the page Getting Started with Pet Partners to give direction to people interested in becoming a registered Pet Partners therapy animal team.
If there is something I can help you with or questions you'd like answered, I'd be glad to help.