Here you are with a dog who loves everyone and has demonstrated a solid comfort level in all environments where you have exposed him. No matter where or what the activity, he is relaxed and enjoys himself. Pursuing therapy dog registration is certainly on the radar. What is your motivation? It would be a great way to get your dog out and around people on a regular basis. Therapy dog visits would be wonderful experiences for your human children. While these are nice thoughts, the true motivation is about the clients that you and your dog would visit. Pet therapy is about bringing comfort and inspiration to those in health care and other facilities.
Assess Your Dog’s Level of Obedience Training
Remember that therapy dogs-in-training are not service dogs-in-training. While service dogs have unlimited public access, therapy dogs do not. Still, there are plenty of dog-friendly areas and places of business to take your dog and actively practice obedience cues. Visit a wide variety of places for practice in as many contexts as possible. Observe the level of competence and the ease your dog displays when asked to “sit and stay” amidst a range of compelling distractions. There can be no food lures at this point and only limited use of food to reinforce. The Canine Good Citizen (CGC) evaluation and tests for therapy dog registration do not allow food to be used. You must have worked to fade the food and replace it with as much verbal encouragement as you wish. Your handling skills will be evaluated, too!
Assess Your Dog’s “Unflappable” Quotient
Great therapy dogs truly enjoy their work. While preparing for testing, closely observe your dog for signs of stress. Watch videos of therapy dog visits and pay attention to how clients handle the dogs as well as situations you are likely to encounter. Will your dog enjoy this? Be realistic. Monitor your dog’s progress on tolerating loud, sudden noises and other out-of-the-norm elements in his environment. A mild startle is not a disqualifier, but a struggle to regroup is. How does your dog respond to surprises along the way?
Organizations for Registration
It is advisable to work with a registering organization. Not only can you be assured that your dog is suitable for therapy work, but the organization coordinates with facilities to schedule visits. Organizations also provide liability insurance for their handler/dog teams. Here are several therapy dog testing organizations:
Therapy Dog International
Good Dog Foundation
Alliance of Therapy Dogs
Bright and Beautiful
NY Therapy Animals (a local affiliate of Intermountain Therapy Animals)
Each organization has testing protocols, retesting periods, and other rules and requirements, so do your homework.
Copyright © Kimberly B. Mandel CPDT-KA, 2019 all rights reserved
Kimberly Mandel Canine Behavior and Training LLC