By Karin Krisher
When I was growing up, my mother’s friend had two dogs at a time, and every few years, she would part with them and replace them…in quantity, anyway. I learned quickly that she was training these pups for certain service positions, and saw her passion become her career over the next decade. In 1990, service dogs were phenomena to me; today, they’re a contextual given for everyday conversation.
Therapy dogs may no longer be rarities, but every one is still special. After golden retrievers from Chicago made news for their trip to Newton, Connecticut, I was again reminded how important these pups are to our healing process. Many people want to help their efforts. The question is always how to begin. So, how can your dog become a therapy dog?
You should start with a serious talk. With yourself. And maybe your dog, if you feel like it. Ask serious questions and give serious answers. Use these key questions to get you started.
– Is your dog friendly toward everyone?
– Does your dog have general manners that include walking calmly through a crowd, not pulling, and sitting and staying without hesitation?
– Is your dog calm? Does your dog remain relaxed even when confronted with loud noises, strange faces or sudden touching (e.g. an accidental tail tug)?
– Does your dog remain focused even when distractions are plentiful?
Are you also interested in becoming the dog’s handler? Ask personal questions about yourself. Consider your relationship with your dog and how it may change. Consider your general response to strangers and unpredictable scenarios.
When you have determined you both have what it takes, you can choose an organization through which to become certified. It’s always a good idea to have your dog become certified as a Canine Good Citizen through the AKC.
Next, obtain free materials from several organizations to help you choose. Both large organizations like Pet Partners, Therapy Dogs Inc. and Therapy Dogs International and smaller organizations with more specific programs, like Therapy Dogs of Vermont or Angel Paws (in Chicago), can help you and your pet obtain training and certification.
Any organization you choose should be easy to contact and work with: talk to current members to gauge their experiences. Attend large events to get a feel for how the organization works. Your dog’s happiness is important, so you can be picky about this choice.
How long it will actually take for your dog to become certified depends on many factors, including training methods, your dog’s current aptitude and personality, and which organization you choose. Once your dog becomes certified, you can travel to all sorts of events and facilities to assist with therapy. Courts, classrooms, nursing homes, hospice environments, children’s hospitals—you name it—your therapy dog can help.
Final step? Commit. Make the move. Dive in. Give it your all. Are you ready to get serious about training your dog to be a therapy dog? We’re proud of you and your pup, because we all know this world can use a little healing—and it takes courage to be the one to provide it.
If you have a therapy dog or have trained one in the past, share your story on our Facebook page. Did we leave out some important details? Let us know!