Are you wondering if your dog would be a good therapy dog?
We all hear of the wonderful work that therapy dogs are doing these days in assisted living facilities, hospitals, and nursing homes. Here are some tips on how you and your dog can take the steps needed to qualify for this fulfilling work, written by one of our volunteers. Both of her dogs, Lexi and Buckeye, are therapy dogs.
The very most important quality for a therapy dog (TD) is basic temperament. Obviously, a TD has to not be aggressive. But, also s/he needs to be comfortable with all kinds of people (men, women, children, all races, etc.), people with atypical behaviors (tics, spastic movements, shouting, etc.), various types of equipment (crutches – even when they fall and make noise, wheelchairs, IV poles – including when they beep, etc.), and with other dogs since most visits are conducted in a group. For some dogs, this level of comfort can be trained, but for most it’s just a matter of lots of socialization and exposure and a basic trust of the world and people. If there is something that a dog is a bit fearful of or even just not comfortable, you can work on conditioning a response – borrow a pair of crutches and let them hang out in your livingroom. Everytime the dog walks by them or sniffs them give him/her a treat (or click and treat), depending on your training style. Once the dog really loves the crutches (walks over to them and turns to look at you for a treat), then lay them down on the floor and do the same thing. Once the dog is comfy with that, then drop a crutch – first when the dog is looking, so it’s not startled – and give a treat. When the dog is comfortable with that then, “accidently” knock a crutch over when the dog is nearby (but obviously not so close it will be hit), and again, be prepared to give treats so that the dog quickly associates everything that a crutch can possibly do with something positive. When you start visiting, the dog won’t instantly know how to generalize (beyond your livingroom), but if you give a treat everytime someone on crutches walks by (or when someone leans over to pet the dog and a crutch falls), you wlll quickly get past the crutch obstacle. The same theory is true of all types of situations or equipment that a TD might encounter.
In addition, Therapy Dogs International, National Capital Therapy Dogs, and Fidos for Freedom (as well as almost all TD organizations besides Pets on Wheels) require basic obedience skills. Below are some links that will take you to the web sites for various therapy dog organizations, so you can see what their specific requirements are, both in terms of “testing in,” as well as the visiting, the number of visits required, who organizes the visits, etc.
Another thing to keep in mind is that different dogs are better/worse for different types of visits. For example, dogs who are very calm, very agile, and very aware of “their space,” usually don't have a problem easiliy slipping between an IV pole and a hospital bed in a crowded room to do a “paws up” on the side of a bed and be petted endlessly (or until the patient finally stops!). These types of dogs might also do well participating in the DEAR (Dogs Educating and Assisting Readers) Program at Fidos, where kids and adults with reading problems practice by reading to the dogs, who are totally non-judgemental. Whereas dogs who are more exciteable, wiggly, and clumsy do much better at Assisted Living facilities or in the playroom on a pediatric ward than room to room in a hospital.
Below are some Web sites you can explore for more information:
Throughout its eight years, Hedgesville Hounds has been blessed by partnerships with wonderful, committed adopters. It has always been our philosophy that our mission will be best accomplished by happy adopters who take up the banner in their own walks of life.
One of the most outstanding examples of the success of this "grass roots" outlook is evident in Bethesda, where on one block, 4 Hedgesville Hounds found great homes, and our organization found some of its finest human representatives.
Not surprisingly, these adopters rely on one another to help out when they need dog care assistance. Here is a photo of these lucky dogs enjoying just such a day together. Pictured on the bed, left to right: Buckeye, a now certified therapy dog; Lexi, also a therapy dog; Macey, the first trailblazer to take up residence in Bethesda; and on the floor, Zoe, our most recent success story.
In memory of Rick and to help you continue your good work. What a wonderful dog! Rick was so enthusiastic and loved life; he got a second chance, thanks to all of you, and he made the most of it. I will never forget how he jumped up on the table at the farm and stuck his head into the potato chip bowl at one of the picnics there - that's my kind of dog! I guess now he's hanging out with Phoebe, and she can torment him again, all in good doggie fun.