Does your dog bring you joy every day?
As a therapy dog team, you can share that joy with people who need it most.
A therapy dog visits nursing homes, hospitals, schools and universities to bring comfort to people who are lonely, ill, or going through a stressful time.
What Exactly IS A Therapy Dog?
It’s important that you understand what a therapy dog does, and what they are allowed to do. A therapy dog is usually a member of a therapy animal association and makes group visits, though you may be able to get special permission to make solo trips from your favourite facilities.
Therapy dogs are not allowed in stores or restaurants, nor do they have any special rights regarding housing or travel. Only service dogs, who help their disabled handler navigate through public areas, are allowed in areas that normally do not permit pets.
Emotional support animals (ESAs) only provide comfort to their handler, usually someone with mental conditions like anxiety, PTSD, bipolar disorder or depression. An ESA is allowed to live in any rented residence, and their handler does not have to pay a pet fee. They are also allowed to fly on planes for free.
Is Your Dog A Good Therapy Dog Candidate?
Not every dog can be a therapy dog. It’s a matter of compatibility. If your dog loves attention from strangers, they’ll love therapy work.
Generally, dogs do not like when random people hug and kiss them. Even a good dog may growl or even bite if they are in close contact with someone they do not trust. It’s vitally important that you only prepare your dog for therapy work if they truly love people.
Respect Your Dog’s Needs
Just because a dog is friendly, does not mean they can be expected to tolerate disrespect or abuse from the people they visit. When your dog becomes a therapy dog, you become a therapy animal handler. That means you’re their advocate.
When you’re around children, it’s your job to teach them to respect animals. Do not allow kids to ride your dog like a horse, lean on them, pet them while they’re eating, or run up and hug them. Instruct kids to speak softly, take turns, and gently stroke the dog’s back or chest. Even if your dog is incredibly tolerant, it is important that kids learn how to be polite around animals because the next dog they see might not be so tolerant.
Even the older people you visit may need to be reminded to be kind to your dog. Also, make sure your dog has plenty of space to walk away from any situation that makes them uncomfortable.
Essential Skills For Therapy Dogs
Your therapy dog should be well-socialized. This is easiest if you are able to start socializing them as a puppy. Socialization isn’t just about meeting lots of people, it’s also about teaching your dog to stay calm in many different environments. Introduce your dog to people in hats, tall people, short people, and people of different ages and ethnicities.
Walk your dog in loud and quiet areas, and wherever pets are permitted. Some public places like hardware stores and restaurant patios allow dogs, but you should always ask the manager before you bring your dog. Give your dog a treat whenever they experience something new or potentially scary to help them build positive associations and make sure they can focus on you no matter where you go.
Some therapy dog programs require that your dog pass the Canine Good Neighbour test. Even if it’s not required, it’s an achievement that you can be proud of, and proof that you have a very, very good dog.
Other Requirements For Therapy Dog Teams
You may want to bathe your dog before therapy visits, especially if you’ll be visiting patients who may have a compromised immune system. Clip their nails and round them off with a nail file or nail grinding tool.
Some therapy dog programs do not allow raw-fed dogs because they feel that pathogens may affect some patients. If this is the case, you may want to switch to a dehydrated or freeze-dried diet. If you’re permitted to work with a raw-fed dog, make sure to feed them at least 30 minutes before you arrive, and wipe their mouth and paws.
Some programs require your dog to be a year old before they can start working. During puppyhood, your dog may experience what we call critical fear periods. Your puppy’s personality is still developing during the first year. They may be deeply affected by inevitable accidents like a child stepping on their tail, and could develop a lifelong fear of children that way.
Therapy Dog Program Websites
Visit the program website and speak with the program manager to learn if you and your dog are a good fit.
Socializing Done Right
If you don’t know how to do it properly, your efforts to socialize your dog could actually create near fears. Never use treats to lure your dog into an uncomfortable situation. Socialize them at their own pace, or you could do more harm than good. If you need any help building foundational skills or socializing your prospective therapy dog in Toronto or North York, contact Healthy Houndz.