Dogs are truly amazing animals. So amazing, in fact, that many can be trained to provide therapeutic benefits to people in need. Therapy dogs travel with their owners to volunteer settings such as nursing homes, hospitals, and schools to offer support.
So how do you go about getting therapy dog certification for your dog? All therapy dogs undergo the same certification process. However, depending on the type of therapy that your dog ends up performing, additional training may be needed.
It is important to note that therapy dogs are not the same as service dogs. Service dogs are specially trained to help people with disabilities, for example leading the blind or providing home assistance to a person with a physical handicap. Service dogs have special access to places like restaurants, movie theaters, and airplanes, while therapy dogs do not.
Different Types of Therapy Dogs
There are three different types of therapy dogs, each with different jobs.
- Therapeutic Visitation dogs visit places like nursing homes, hospitals, schools, and rehabilitation facilities. In most cases, they are there to provide company to people who miss their pets or simply need some cheering up.
- Animal Assisted Therapy dogs assist occupational and physical therapists in helping to meet a patient’s recovery goals. These types of therapy dogs usually provide support in therapies related to motor function and hand-eye coordination.
- Facility Therapy dogs typically live at the facility they are serving, often a nursing home or rehabilitation center, and assist patients with mental illnesses such as Alzheimer’s disease.
Step 1: Evaluate Your Dog’s Temperament
Is your dog afraid of people, skittish, or uneasy in new environments? If so, they may not be cut out for therapy dog work. A therapy dog should be friendly and comfortable with all types of people, and enjoy visiting new and different locations.
Step 2: Make Sure That Your Dog is in Good Health
Therapy dogs often travel to locations where people are sick or elderly, and an unwell dog can end up doing more harm than good. You will need to make sure that your dog is up to date on all of their vaccinations and receive a health certificate from your veterinarian.
Step 3: Certification Testing
There are a large number of groups that provide training, certification, and even liability insurance to therapy dogs and their handlers. To have your dog certified as a therapy dog, you will need to seek out one of these organizations. The American Kennel Club has a useful list of approved organizations.
The testing requirements for therapy dog certification may vary depending on what certification organization you choose. However, the vast majority of organizations require that at the very least, your dog pass the American Kennel Club’s Canine Good Citizen (CGC) test. If the organization that you select requires that your dog take the test but does not facilitate it, The American Kennel Club has a website where you can search for a testing site by state. Many of the testing sites also offer training for the CGC test.
So what is involved in the Canine Good Citizen test? Your dog must:
Additional tests carried out by your chosen organization may include reactions to children, a supervised visit with a patient, and more. Some organizations may also require that the volunteer handler (or owner) pass a background check.
Step 4: Find Volunteer Opportunities
Once your dog is certified as a therapy dog, it’s time to find some places to volunteer. Most of the therapy dog certification/registration organizations provide lists of volunteer opportunities. You can also contact your local SPCA or Humane Society for ideas.
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