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Bark All About It!

Therapy Dog Training - Help Yourself So You Can Help Others!

Sep 21, 2015

Do you have a dog who is warm, loving, and calm? And do you have a desire to bring emotional support and moments of joy to those who need it most, such as people in hospitals, nursing homes, hospice, and other programs? Then you and your pup would be a great fit for becoming a therapy dog team, and our therapy dog training class is a fantastic way to get started.


What is a therapy dog?

Due to the ever-increasing use of animals to serve and support those in need, many people confuse different classes of dogs trained to assist people. So it might be helpful to first describe what a therapy dog is not:

Service Dogs

Service dogs are those that are specially trained to assist individuals with physical disabilities. While “seeing eye dogs” are the type that most people are familiar with, there are service dogs trained to assist those with many types of recognized disabilities. Service dogs may warn of an impending seizure or low blood sugar, alert a deaf person to auditory cues, picking up objects that their handler cannot retrieve, calming someone with PTSD, and so on.

Services dogs are the only type of dog allowed to enter all businesses and other areas that normally restrict dogs. (“Comfort animals” that are not trained to perform specific behaviors to assist someone with a diagnosed disability do not have the same protections as service dogs.)

Emotional Support Dogs

These are often referred to as companion or comfort dogs, or even as (confusingly enough) “therapy dogs.” Emotional support dogs are those that provide comfort to those with serious psychological conditions that would leave them otherwise unable to function in many public situations. For a dog to be considered an emotional support animal, the owner must have a documented prescription from a licensed mental health professional.

The owners of emotional support dogs can keep their dogs in housing that normally restricts the presence of pets, and can take them on airplanes. However, emotional support dogs are considered to be pets, and are not protected by the ADA. They cannot be taken into businesses, hotels, hospitals, and other areas that otherwise restrict animals.

So what is a Therapy Dog?

The most obvious difference between a therapy dog and service and emotional support dogs is that service dogs are trained to comfort people other than the owner or handler, while the other two are trained to only be of assistance to their handler/owner. Training and owning a therapy dog is rooted in the desire to help others.

What do therapy dogs do?

In recent years research has made it obvious that contact with a therapy animal can greatly improve mental and physical health. Because of this, an ever widening variety of institutions have incorporated therapy dog programs into their regimen. Such programs target many people in a variety of circumstances, including:

  • Visiting ill or dispirited patients
  • Staying with people stuck in hospital waiting rooms while their loved ones are being treated
  • Comforting young patients while they are undergoing unpleasant or painful treatments, such as chemotherapy
  • Touring senior centers, nursing homes, and retirement homes
  • Comforting those who are dying in hospice care, as well as their families
  • Working in conjunction with a health expert to help medical patients in physical or mental therapy to build motor skills, mobility, mental abilities, emotional stability, and more
  • School programs in which children read to therapy dogs in order to build their confidence (what could be any more non-judgmental than a dog!)
  • Comforting disaster victims and first responders
  • Visiting colleges in order to reduce the depression, stress, negative coping behaviors, and manifestation of psychological disorders that college students often suffer

Because the job of a therapy dog is simply to provide loving comfort, a therapy dog can be any breed, shape or size. However, because of the environments they work in, therapy dogs have be able to remain calm and well-behaved even when strange equipment like medical devices or wheelchairs are moved past them, not react impulsively to clumsy handling or petting, and not be startled by strange or sudden noises.

What does The Local Bark’s Therapy Preparation class offer?

Therapy dogs are not trained to perform specific or unusual tasks, but instead, must simply be trained to be obedient, well-behaved, and tolerant of stimuli that would normally stress many animals. These prerequisites are why we require all dogs entering our therapy dog training program to have passed the AKC’s Canine Good Citizen certification test, which can be administered by several of The Local Bark’s trained specialists. The CGC is typically administered in an area that is quiet and relaxed, and tests dogs in 10 different aspects of behavior:

  1. Approaching and greeting a friendly stranger
  2. Sitting down and allowing someone to pet them
  3. Calmly accepting grooming and brushing, and having their paws and ears handled
  4. Walking on a loose leash and following the owner’s lead
  5. Moving calmly and inconspicuously through a group of people
  6. Obeying commands to sit, lie down, and stay
  7. Coming when called by their handler
  8. Remaining calm and behaved around other dogs
  9. Calmly handling distractions and unexpected stimuli
  10. Being able to be left with a trusted person and separated from their owner without lapsing into poor or uncontrolled behavior

Once you have passed the Canine Good Citizen test, you are eligible for our therapy dog preparation program. During the course, we will strengthen your dog’s response to obedience commands in the types of environments that therapy dogs work in, including settings similar to hospitals and nursing homes, child-dog reading programs, and so on. We will familiarize them with common hospital equipment and other strange stimuli, do socialization exercises, and coach you on how to safely handle your dog while in sensitive settings. And we can help you figure out what types of settings and programs would be the best fit for your dog—some dogs love the energy of small children, while others savor the quiet and calm of being around the elderly.

Please note that we cannot certify you as dog therapy team at the end of the course, but will direct you to organizations that are licensed to administer the certification test. When you have successfully completed our course, you can be confident that you’ll be able to breeze through certification with no problems.

If you think that you and your dog have a lot of love to give to those who need it most, and are ready to face a challenge, come register for our next therapy dog class, or contact us for more information!

Tags: dog training
Category: Training

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