How Can My Dog Become a Therapy Dog?

You love your dog so much and want to share their stellar, unique personality with the world, right?!  Well, that’s just awesome!  You know what?  I bet your community would LOVE to meet your dog and have them be an asset to your neighbors.  So, how exactly does your favorite canine become a therapy dog?

Become a Therapy Dog

As s therapy dog trainer in Toms River, we want to help you reach this goal!  So first, let’s answer a few questions:

  • Does your dog have the right personality?  Does she love sitting, calmly to let just about any pet and love her or is she nervous around new people?  Is he cool and collected in new environments and with new sounds or does he want to hide behind you or run into another room?  If your dog is more nervous than calm and confident, you may want to work with a trainer to learn how to boost your dog’s confidence and build their trust in you as a leader before diving into therapy dog training.  Be honest with yourself and your dog because ultimately you want to have the best relationship and experience as a therapy dog team as you can.  If your dog doesn’t have a people-friendly personality, there are many other k9 activities you can do together, like agility or nose work.
  • What type of therapy work is best for my dog?  Although you will have to pass the certification test that involves making sure your dog doesn’t react to medical devices; hospitals, nursing homes, and hospice facilities are not the only places where therapy dogs can make a difference.  You can also volunteer with programs dealing with kids!   Your local library may have a program where children can read to your therapy dog.  Schools may want you to come into class and educate the kids about your therapy dog and what you do.  Adult Group Homes may like for you to visit their residents.  There are many options for you and your dog!  Consider your dog’s personality and try to work with an age group your dog will enjoy.

How Do I Start the Process?

First, you will want to see if there are any Therapy Dog Organization in your area.  In NJ, the most known ones are Therapy Dogs International (TDI) and Bright and Beautiful Therapy Dogs.   We recommend that you learn about each organization and choose one that aligns more closely with your goals as a therapy dog team.

Where Do I Find a Therapy Dog Trainer?

Once you’ve chosen which organization you want to work with, you can review their website for a list of trainers.  This may not show you all the trainers who teach therapy dog classes – just the ones who are associated with their organization.

The best place to start would be the same place you ask all your questions:  Google!  Do a search and see if there are any trainers in your area.  Read any online reviews and testimonials about them so you can get an idea about what classes and their experience is through people who have worked with them.

You could call up local hospitals, libraries or other locations you know who have visiting therapy dogs and ask for one of the volunteers to call you.  They should be able to give you a recommendation.

What Does the Training Entail?

You will want to have at least a basic obedience class with your dog under your belt and a great relationship.  Your dog should not be reactive to other dogs or people, know how to sit, down, come and stay before beginning Therapy Dog Training.

During the Therapy Dog Training class, you and your dog will learn how to work even better as a team.  Your dog learns not to react to wheelchairs, crutches, walkers,  loud noises, food, different body languages (think of how elderly people usually shuffle their feet when they walk and may have a hunched body posture), and groups of people.

What Does the Training Entail

What is the Test Like?

If you are properly prepared, then the test should be like you were in class.  It shouldn’t be a stressful or scary event for you or your dog.

During the test, the evaluator will typically look to see that the following behaviors are able to be completed:

  • The dog should not react to a stranger
  • The dog should not react to a person with a walker close to them and being touched by the walker
  • The handler and dog can walk, calmly through a crowd of people without the dog pulling the owner or being afraid
  • The dog must be able to perform sit, down, stay and come
  • The dog should be able to walk passed food on the floor and ignore it
  • The dog should not react to a person with crutches walking close to them or being touched by the crutches
  • The dog should not react to a person in a wheelchair moving close to them or being touched by the wheelchair
  • The dog should not react to another dog walking towards them or around them
  • The dog should not react to a crowd of people laughing, loud noises, running or shouting

What Happens Once You Pass the Test?

Typically, paperwork is completed at the testing center and submitted with a testing fee to the testing organization.  The organization will then send your official certificate and typically an identification badge for you and your dog.  They will also provide a list of acceptable and unacceptable behavior during therapy visits and inform you how to track your visits and become active with a local facility needing therapy dogs.




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