Everyone knows about the special relationships that people share with their four legged friends. Therapy dogs are all about sharing that love with people who are not in a position to be able to keep a dog of their own, but who can really benefit from the joy a well-trained dog can bring. Many people have been separated from their beloved pets through illness, or may be unable to own a dog for one reason or another.
Therapy dogs have been helping people to share these very special animals since 1990, and now there are more than 12,000 dogs (and dog parents) right across the United States, Puerto Rico, Canada and many of the U.S. territories.
Dogs can bring joy, smiles, and inner peace to many people in hospitals, schools, nursing homes and special needs centers. Just think of the joy your canine companion brings to you every day. Now, think about how great it would be for him to do the same for someone who is in a less fortunate situation. You and your dog get as much from this relationship as the people who are lucky enough to enjoy a visit!
Do you think that you and your dog have what it takes to become Therapy Dogs and handlers? It’s easier than you think. General requirements are:
- A friendly dog who loves meeting people and is happy to be touched and stroked by strangers.
- The dog must not be prone to jump up at people as they are being stroked – many of the people who benefit from Therapy Dog visits are elderly or may be unstable on their feet.
- Be well behaved around other dogs and animals. On many occasions there will be more than one Therapy Dog paying a visit at the same time.
- Your dog must have all around good manners. This means he must walk quietly on a leash and have a naturally calm disposition. Some Therapy organizations require your dog to have proof of completing a basic obedience course.
- The dog must be at least one year of age with up-to-date vaccines. He’s also got to be clean and well groomed.
- Both pure bred and mixed breeds are welcome – this certainly is not some type of beauty contest, it’s all about making people smile.
- A dog parent who is willing to share their fantastic friend with others and is willing to spend a little time visiting people to share the love.
It’s quite a simple procedure to register your dog as a Therapy Dog. First of all you and your dog will be observed and tested just to make sure that you’re both up to the task, and that the dog is of the right temperament for the work. It really comes down to having good handling skills and a well-mannered dog. If the pair of you passes the test, then your first few visits to strangers or residents may be supervised, just to see how you get along. Most importantly – would your dog enjoy being petted by complete strangers and be comfortable in different settings than his typical home? If your dog gets stressed or nervous while being petted or greeting strangers, it may not be the best activity for you and your dog.
After these steps, you and your dog will be qualified to bring joy and happiness to doggy lovers who are less fortunate than yourselves. Makes you feel kinda warm inside doesn’t it?
Photo: Courtesy of Marvin Kuo via Flickr (CC by 2.0)