Question: My dog Milo loves people; kids, old folks, everybody. I think he would make a great Therapy Dog to bring a smile to people’s faces. How do I know if he is fit for the work?
Amy’s answer: The best Therapy Dogs do love interacting with people, but that is just part of their job. The dog is just half of the team: the handler makes a big impression as well. Consider that you would be entering nursing homes, schools, hospitals or rehab centers. Some dogs comfort disaster victims or in stressful courtroom settings. So, handlers (usually the owner) need to have full control and polish up their people skills, too. You will be asked lots of questions about your dog and may be asked to show off a trick or two.
The testing procedure involves obedience training commands like Come, Sit, Lie Down and Stay. Your dog will also be tested on how he reacts to medical equipment, loud noises, people running and children playing. I find as a certified evaluator for TDI (Therapy Dogs International) that when a failure occurs during testing, it is usually something involving the obedience commands, so I recommend strongly that potential test participants practice with their dog not just at home but out in public, in parks, and in pet supply stores. Work around other dogs as much as you can because that will be necessary during the test and after you are certified.
This is a labor of love, so once you get certified don’t just sit on your accomplishment. Get out there and volunteer in Reading to Dogs programs, in hospitals or nursing homes, or develop a presentation. Just a ten minute talk ending with your audience rewarding your dog with positive attention is a real uplifting moment for the people you are there to help, for you, and your dog will love it, too.
Confused? Confounded? Just plain clueless? It’s not you. Dog trainer Amy Robinson answers your burning questions about what the heck your dog is doing. Email your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org or tweet to @sniffandbarkens #AskAmyRobinson