26 Feb Becoming a Therapy Dog
With just recently being chosen as an approved evaluator for the K9to5 National Therapy Dog Registry, I felt it appropriate to talk about therapy dogs today. Sometimes people confuse therapy dogs with service dogs. They are not one in the same.
A service dog is a legally defined as a dog trained to meet the needs of a handler that has disabilities. Service animals are not considered pets. They are by law allowed in any public facility, which includes all public transportation.
A therapy dog is often a persons pet, that is trained to provide people with physical contact but are not limited to working with people with disabilities. They will visit hospitals and nursing homes. They will also assist in animal therapy services such as reading programs in schools, assisting in rehab, and assisting trained professionals in various fields.
A therapy dog can be a purebred or mixed breed. Disabled dogs are also eligible to qualify for a therapy dog as long as they are physically capable to handle the challenges. Dogs that have been trained in any way for bite work are ineligible, and the dog must be at least one year old.
There are no real regulations for dogs to do therapy work. That is why I was happy to become a part of the K9to5 National Therapy Dog Registry. They have strict requirements for their evaluators and their therapy dog teams. One of the requirements I found different about them is that the dog is actually tested in two different medical facilities. One of those facilities will be a place the dog has never been. This sets high standards for the organization. Any therapy team that does not perform up to par is not eligible to become a member. They even have a pretest for the dog in order to determine the level of resource guarding the dog does. This I feel is a great addition.
The basic commands your dog will have to follow are:
Move to the Side
Loose Leash Walk
Down and Sit
Walking Very Slowly
Other items the dog will be tested upon are their interaction with residents and staff. The handler will need to become the dog’s advocate and watch for any signs of stress. Appearance of both the dog and the handler is to nothing but professional.
I met a lady and her dog a while back, and she just formed a group within her church. While her intentions were good of wanting to help and comfort people that were ill, her dog should never have been allowed to be a therapy dog. His manners and obedience were not reliable 100% of the time; in fact they were not even reliable 75% of the time! He had fears to specific distractions, which at any given point could surface on a visit to the nursing home. This woman is putting herself, her dog, and all others around her at risk. She is also damaging the industry of the good that comes from therapy dog work. Let us say that her dog had an incident at a hospital that made that hospital place a policy in place that they did not want therapy dogs any more coming into the establishment. What if the incident was enough to make the newspaper or news? We all know how the media will play on specific incidents such as this. It could take something so good and turn it into something that would affect all therapy dog teams.
Please be responsible and realistic. Just because it may be your dream to work with a therapy dog, it may not be your dogs.