Therapy Dog Training
Therapy dogs bring people comfort and joy. They’re trained to enrich a person’s life by simply providing that person the attention and company he needs from a unique canine perspective. Unlike service dogs, therapy dogs are not trained to perform tasks for a disabled person. Their sole purpose is to comfort people in need.
Therapy dogs are accompanied by their owner or handler. Together, they visit people in colleges, hospitals, retirement homes and nursing homes. Therapy dogs are not, however, allowed on airplanes or restaurants with a no-dog policy. The latter is a privilege reserved for service dogs.
Before we dive into how your dog can become a therapy dog, let’s look at the differences between therapy dogs and service dogs.
Differences Between Therapy Dogs and Service Dogs
|Therapy Dogs||Service Dogs|
|Certification Required||Yes||No, but they must follow strict ADA guidelines.|
|Purpose||To provide comfort to people in need.||To complete specific tasks for people with disabilities, such as picking items up or alerting when blood sugar level drops|
|Places Allowed||Schools, hospitals, retirement homes, nursing homes, hospices, physical therapy gyms and disaster areas||All public areas, including restaurants, hotels, airports, grocery stores and hair salons|
|Training||Pass the AKC Canine Good Citizen Class (CGC) and earn certification through a therapy dog training organization||Socialize early on and undergo focused training for one to two hours every day for about six months. This can vary, depending on the dog’s breed and drive as well as requirements specific to the service dog training organization.|
|Types||Therapeutic visitation||Guide dogs|
|Animal assisted therapy||Hearing dogs|
|Facility therapy dog||Mobility dogs|
|Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) dogs|
|Seizure alert dogs|
|Diabetic alert dogs|
Types of Therapy Dogs
There are three types of therapy dogs, according to Therapy Dogs of Vermont: therapeutic visitation, animal assisted therapy and facility therapy. The main difference between each type of therapy dog is environment.
Therapeutic visitation dogs can be found in hospitals, nursing homes and rehabilitation facilities. As their name implies, these dogs visit dog owners who can’t be with their pets due to their current health conditions.
Animal assisted therapy dogs help patients recover during the rehabilitation process. Teaming up with physical and occupational therapists, these dogs help patients regain their mobility and fine motor skills by letting patients pet, brush and even take them on short walks.
Facility therapy dogs usually work in nursing homes and aid patients who are former dog owners who miss their unconditionally loving dogs. These dogs make sure the patient doesn’t get into trouble or harm himself.
Health Benefits of Therapy Dogs
Therapy dogs have a profound effect on a person’s well-being. Their simple presence offers people the attention, touch and positive attitude they seek during difficult times. Beyond improving a person’s mood, self-esteem and morale, therapy dogs provide physical benefits as well.
Therapy dogs can:
- Decrease blood pressure
- Decrease levels of cortisol (stress hormone)
- Increase levels of dopamine and oxytocin
- Improve fine motor skills and mobility
How to Train Your Dog to Be a Therapy Dog
Dog owners can train their dogs to become therapy dogs by completing a certification program through one of the several reputable organizations that offer such programs. A therapy dog certification indicates a dog has passed obedience training requirements, socialized with other dogs and people, and proved to work well in different environments.
There are several dog training organizations that offer therapy dog certifications, including:
- Therapy Dogs International (TDI)
- Pet Partners
- Love on a Leash
- Bright and Beautiful Therapy Dogs
- Therapy Dogs Incorporated (TD Inc.)
General Requirements of a Therapy Dog
Therapy dogs work with people and thus must be comfortable around them. Owners who wish to make their dogs certified therapy dogs must socialize their dogs early on, so they can get used to being surrounded by people and other animals. Socialization has the biggest effect when done while the dog is still a puppy. However, a professional dog trainer can teach you how to socialize your dog no matter his age.
Temperament is another key factor in certifying therapy dogs. The dog must have a friendly, calm demeanor and truly love people. Health is another factor in obtaining the title of a therapy dog. All required vaccinations must be current and additional tests must be performed yearly to keep patients safe.
If you’re serious about helping people with your therapy dog, consider pursuing your dog trainer certification from Animal Behavior College. The certification provides you a good foundation as a professional dog trainer. From there, you can pursue your AKC Canine Good Citizen Class (CGC) Evaluator Certification. Learn more about our Dog Trainer Program by calling 800-795-3294.