What is a Therapy Dog?Therapy dogs are trained to comfort people and provide affection to those who are currently dealing with stresses from terminal illnesses and clinical depression to homelessness and PTSD. Therapy dogs are trained to behave safely in unfamiliar social settings and interact with lots of people who are seeking their attention simultaneously. They are frequently taken to nursing and retirement homes, hospice, hospitals, disaster areas, correctional facilities, and special needs’ schools. Therapy dogs have been shown to give confidence to children with low self-esteem and motivate others during physical rehabilitation therapy, just to name a few of their incredible skills. Service dogs are trained to complete tasks for individuals who need assistance due to their disabilities. This helps them lead more independent, less-limited lives. For example, a service dog trained to work with the blind will be an expert guide and possibly open doors for their owner, and a service dog for someone in a wheelchair may be strong enough to pull their owner and help them get around. Therapy dogs do not provide this kind of physical service, but they do provide emotional support. Service dogs are also typically taught to only obey and pay attention to their one owner who needs them. Whereas therapy dogs are trained to interact with as many people as possible when they’re “on duty.”
What Privileges Does a Therapy Dog Have?People with service dogs have the legal right to take their dog to any public place of their choosing without fear of being asked to leave their dog outside. Therapy dogs are not legally guaranteed access to areas such as airports, hospitals, restaurants, and other locations that service dogs are allowed to be in. They are granted access to these places as long as the owner of the property agrees to let them in.
Can Any Dog Be a Therapy Dog?Your dog can provide psychological and physiological therapy to those in need of the support a trained therapy dog can provide. While service dogs are typically chosen by breed, most breeds are eligible to become therapy dogs. Dogs should be warm and friendly, with an easy-going, eager to learn personality. If you think your dog can provide this kind of help, find a reputable therapy dog organization that offers a specific evaluation and training program that uses positive reinforcement and reward-based training methods. When your dog is certified, you can start to volunteer in your neighborhood.
How Does a Therapy Dog Get Certified?According to the Good Dog Foundation, therapy dog classes should focus on:
- General obedience (sit, down, stay, walk on a loose lead)
- Relaxation and control
- Gentling exercises and desensitization to handling and novel stimuli
- Familiarization with hospital equipment
- Socialization exercises with other dogs and people
- Meeting and greeting exercises
- Role-playing for hospital environment
- Instruction and coaching for safe dog-handling in health care facilities