Getting Involved with Therapy Dogs

In recent news, service dogs have received much attention—for good reason. Following the tragic bombing at the Boston Marathon, the National Education for Assistance Dog Services (NEADS) established a new endowment to provide service dogs to anyone disabled by the marathon bombing. The victims, should they choose, may acquire a service dog in the future for necessary support.

This humanitarian effort has also inspired many other pet parents to certify their dogs for therapy purposes. Therapy dogs offer affection and periodic companionship to people in hospitals, various clinics, nursing homes, schools and disaster zones. They also help individuals with learning disabilities. Although a therapy dog certification may not be right for every canine, it’s a great option for dogs of all ages who meet certain temperament standards.

Who should consider certifying their dog?

Anyone who enjoys volunteering and owns a friendly dog would be a quality candidate. If you work long hours and frequently leave your dog alone at home, consider finding a pet sitter who is willing to go through the certification process with your dog. This way, you will give your canine much needed social interaction and training, while offering a service to your community.

 How can my dog achieve therapy dog status?

Some facilities offer in-service training, but more opportunities may be available if you and your dog obtain a professional certification. For example, Therapy Dog International (TDI) calls on both dogs and handlers to meet a number of requirements before attaining therapy dog status. Additionally, each handler/dog team must be certified independently, meaning the dog may work with multiple handlers during the process. Comprised of two phases, the process requires both the dog and handler(s) to complete 13 categorical tests.

Phase I

  • Test I: Grooming Examination – must meet hospital standards
  • Test II: Check-In – handler simulates filling out check-in paperwork, and a helper holds the dog in another room separately, away from the handler
  • Test III: Getting Around People – the dog must demonstrate control when navigating around people and must be able to handle when people approach
  • Test IV: Group Sit / Stay – the dog must be able to sit and stay when the handler moves to the end the leash
  • Test V: Group Down / Stay – same as test 4, however, the dog must be able to lie and remain in a down position
  • Test VII: Visiting With Patients – the dog must demonstrate control and willingness to be petted by other people

Phase II

  • Test VIII: Testing of Reactions to Unusual Situations – the dog must be able to follow the handler while exposed to situations that might occur while serving
  • Test IX: Leave It; Phase 1 – the handler must instruct the dog to leave a treat that is presented by a person on a walker while greeting them
  • Test X: Leave It; Phase 2 – the handler instructs the dog to leave a piece of food that is presented in its path
  • Test XI: Meeting Another Dog – the dog must demonstrate control while the handler converses with another person and their canine
  • Test XII: Entering Through a Door To Visit at the Facility – the handler must instruct the dog to sit, stand, lie down or stay before entering
  • Text XIV: Reaction to Children – the dog must demonstrate control and comfort when exposed to children

What do I do once my dog is certified?

When your dog completes the appropriate certification courses, you’ll want to find a local facility where you can put him or her to work. Most hospitals permit the services of therapy dogs. Contact a hospital’s volunteer office to learn about their therapy dog policy.

If you don’t wish to have your therapy dog participate in hospitals, you might consider contacting local schools, clinics and rehabilitation centers.

Furthermore, some certification programs aid in finding facilities that accept therapy dogs. They may provide a list of local organizations that recognize and accept their program certified dogs.

This was written by Kevin Cooper, who writes about pet-related topics, including how to find affordable dog insurance options and other news about ASPCA Pet Insurance. He also enjoys learning about trending pet-related news across the web.


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