Getting Started with Pet Partners


 Introduction to Therapy Animals

 Pet Partners Video

 Program Requirements

 Acceptable Equipment

 The Handler Course

 The Team Evaluation

 Community Partner Groups

 Are You Ready to Begin?

 Attributes of a Great Therapy Animal

 Attributes of a Great Therapy Animal Handler

About this Page

Muka and me visiting with a patient

I created this page to assist people interested in becoming involved in therapy animal work. My dog and I volunteer as a registered Pet Partners team at Legacy Salmon Creek Hospital in Vancouver, WA.

Pet Partners teams consist of the handler and their animal (dog, cat, rabbit, bird...), and volunteer in a wide variety of facilities including schools, libraries, retirement homes, assisted living homes, nursing homes, hospitals and hospices.

I hope you will join us and begin sharing your animal's love with those in need. I will be glad to help you in any way I can, no matter where you live.

Peter Christensen


Introduction to Therapy Animals

This page will give you a good overview of therapy animal work:

 Introduction to Therapy Animals

It covers how therapy animals heal, the various types of facilities in which they serve, and many other interesting topics.

As you will read, the majority of therapy animal work is classified as Animal Assisted Activities (AAA). Typical examples include visits to patients in hospitals and residents in retirement homes.

However, registered Pet Partners are also qualified to work with physical and mental health professionals. This work is classified as Animal Assisted Therapy (AAT), and sessions are designed to help the client achieve specific goals such as increased mobility or improved memory.

You may also be interested in the answers to these frequently asked questions:

 Can a therapy dog visit my relative?

 Can I take my therapy dog to work with me?

 How do I train my puppy to be a therapy dog?

Pet Partners Video

This video presents an overview of the Pet Partners Therapy Animal Program:

Program Requirements

Carefully review the criteria for prospective therapy animals and handlers on the Pet Partners website:

 Program Requirements

And before going any further, you should also carefully read:

 Pet Partners Therapy Animal Program Policies and Procedures

Acceptable Equipment

This video discusses acceptable and unacceptable equipment (leashes, collars, harnesses and brushes) for use on visits and during your evaluation:

The Handler Course

The Handler Course is designed for anyone interested in volunteering with their pet. It fulfills the handler training required to continue on to the Pet Partners Team Evaluation and registration.

The course provides the handler with the knowledge to successfully conduct therapy animal visits, as well as the knowledge necessary to prepare for the Team Evaluation.

The Handler Course may be taken either on-line or in an in-person workshop.

Find an in-person workshop in your area:  Go to, hover over Volunteer, then click on Calendar of Events. You can simply scroll down the calendar or first apply filters such as State or type of event.

The Team Evaluation

This video provides a demonstration of a Pet Partners evaluation and will give you an idea of how an evaluation is conducted. Total playtime is just over 16 minutes.

After taking the Handler Course, you may find How to Prepare for a Pet Partners Evaluation helpful. It discusses steps you can take to prepare for your evaluation, and presents tips to help you avoid common mistakes.

Find a Team Evaluation in your area:  Go to, hover over Volunteer, then click on Calendar of Events. You can simply scroll down the calendar or first apply filters such as State or type of event.

Community Partner Groups

I also serve as President of Columbia River Pet Partners, a local Community Partner of the national Pet Partners organization. We serve the greater Portland, OR – Vancouver, WA area, and beyond.

Our primary activity is reaching out to people with big hearts, a little spare time and a well-behaved animal, and helping them through the process of becoming registered therapy animal teams serving their communities. If you live in this region, we would like to help you!

If you live outside this area, you can search for a local Pet Partners Community Partner Group here:

 Pet Partners Community Partner Groups

Serving the greater Portland, OR – Vancouver, WA area and beyond

Are You Ready to Begin?

Bowing our heads in a waiting room, a popular request

Working the waiting room of a hospital, a man asked me about signing up to join us with his dog. He seemed very interested, so I spent 10 minutes talking to him about therapy dog work. I was excited to possibly be recruiting him.

Then he told me that he'd inquired at another hospital, and said they were "ridiculous." They wanted him to go through an orientation class, and he'd have none of that!

What was he thinking? Should just anyone, even a registered therapy animal team, be able to wander through a hospital visiting patients without first learning about the hospital layout, volunteer procedures, disease prevention and patient privacy regulations?

While it might be a much simpler process to start making visits to your mom's retirement home, in order to help people through therapy animal work you and your animal have to be trained, evaluated, registered, and then become a volunteer for the facility you will be visiting as well as a volunteer for Pet Partners.

I don't mean to discourage you, but it's important that you realize all that is involved in the process before you make the decision to begin.

Below you will find lists of attributes that make a great team. But you don't need to have all these attributes at the time you begin your journey. In fact, I often have students take my class when their dogs are only puppies. What is important is that you are confident that you know what is ahead, and that you are dedicated to completing the process.

 One other consideration is that your Handler Course Completion Certificate is valid for participation in a team evaluation for two years. If you aren't ready to evaluate within two years of completing the Handler Course, you will have to re-take it.

Muka began work as a therapy dog before he was two

Attributes of a Great Therapy Animal

 Controllable, predictable and reliable, even with distractions

 Friendly and confident

 People-oriented and sociable such that they enjoy visiting

 Comfortable being crowded by a group of people and touched, sometimes awkwardly

 Non-aggressive and well-mannered with both people and other animals

 Will initiate contact, and yet respects personal boundaries

 Able to be redirected on cue, including being directed away from people and objects

 Able to cope with stressful situations

 Comfortable around health care equipment

 The animal must also have the following essential skills:

 Walk on a leash without pulling





 Leave it!

 Take treats nicely

 The animal must also have the following good manners:

 No jumping on people or furniture

 Minimal if any vocalizing, stoppable on cue

 Minimal if any licking, stoppable on cue

 Can walk past other animals without displaying aggression or excessive fear

 Refrains from intrusive behaviors (nosing around)

 Reliably housebroken

Pukalu may be ready for therapy dog work around age 40

Attributes of a Great Therapy Animal Handler

 Willing to make commitments and keep them

 Interested in people

 Friendly, making eye contact and smiling

 Good communicators with their animal, facility staff, and the people they meet during visits

 Confident and natural in their interactions

 A good listener

 Demonstrates a loving relationship with their animal

 A proactive advocate for their animal, watching for signs of stress and taking actions to control the situation

 Prepares themselves and their animal appropriately for each visit

 Knows how to help their animal be at its best in serving others

 Assesses each visit before, during and after

This video presents an overview of our work at Legacy Salmon Creek Hospital.