Therapy dogs are trained to provide comfort and affection to people in a variety of situations and environments. Many animals can be used as therapy animals, but dogs are definitely the most common. If you've been wondering how to make your dog a therapy dog, it may be easier than you think.
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Therapy dogs are great for people who are struggling with mental and physical illnesses. Studies have proven how therapy dogs help with autism, depression, mourning, PTSD, stress, physical problems, ADHD, or many other psychological conditions and handicap. They can also help people dealing with trauma, children who are struggling learners and even people suffering with dementia.
While most any dog can become a therapy dog, some breeds are more equipped for this. We know how much our dogs help us deal with the trials and tribulations of everyday life, so why not let our pups help others, too? Learning how to make your dog a therapy dog is a fairly simple process. However, it will take time and a lot of work on your part.
How to Make Your Dog a Therapy Dog
The first thing you need to know is that service dogs and therapy dogs are NOT the same thing. Service dogs provide assistance to one person, while therapy dogs provide comfort to many different people.
Most experts believe that therapy dogs are born, not raised. You can teach a dog good manners and how to behave in public, but the love, compassion and affection that therapy dogs must show cannot be taught. A dog either has those personality traits, or he doesn't.
A therapy dog must be be tolerant and outgoing to all people and all other animals. This is another trait that cannot be taught. If your dog is naturally anxious, stressed or high-strung, he's not going to make a good therapy dog.
Training a Therapy Dog
If you believe that your dog has what it takes to be a therapy dog, you should seriously consider hiring a professional trainer that has experience with training therapy dogs.
Before you spend the time and money on the lengthy certification process, getting a little training under your belt would be very beneficial. Plus, an experienced trainer will know what to expect through the certification process.
Therapy dog training will help you understand your dog in a different way and will strengthen the bond between the two of you. Not only that, but it will prepare you both for what's to come with the testing procedure and help you and your pup prepare properly.
Certification for Therapy Dogs
There are organizations all around the country that certify therapy dogs. You can do a quick Google search for a reputable organization in your area or look on this list of AKC recognized therapy dog programs.
Most programs have an age requirement for you and your dog – usually at least 1-year-old for dogs and 18-years-old for the handler – and training requirements. There is also a test that you and your pooch will need to pass to become certified. The test will include handling and canine temperament aspects.
Your dog will be tested on his reactions to other dogs (and possible other animals), strangers, strange noises and smells, different types of people, different environments and a number of different situations.
If you and your dog are able to pass the certification process, you'll be able to register your pup as a therapy dog. You can find “jobs” for your dog on your own or sign up to volunteer with a therapy dog organization in your area.