How to Certify Your Dog as a Therapy Dog

by on September 17th, 2010
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Owning a dog is a blessing of unconditional love between dog and owner. However, not everyone has the opportunity to share in that blessing. When the elderly are bound to a health care facility, most often they can’t take their beloved pet with them. When children are battling health issues away from home, they miss the love and companionship of the family pet, too. This is where therapy dogs shine.

What is a Therapy Dog?

Simply stated, a certified therapy dog is a dog that visits people to bring comfort and joy. Owners of therapy dogs take their animals to hospitals, assisted living facilities or any event where interaction between humans and dogs would be beneficial.

The purpose of the visit is to allow those who are without companionship to have the opportunity to see, pet, hug or play with a dog. Children are delighted to play with them in a controlled environment. Adults are happy to see the wagging tails that remind them of the pets they once loved. In short, therapy dogs are four-legged affection machines.

What Type of Dog Makes a Good Therapy Dog?

A therapy dog needs to be a well-mannered and even-tempered dog. Since therapy visits and events are usually conducted with multiple animals, they need to be able to get along with other animals – as well as with all types of people.

A typical visit to a nursing home or hospital can mean many hands touching, stroking or other forms of contact for a therapy dog. Therefore, a good therapy dog needs to be well-socialized and able to interact with children – who often move fast and adults or special needs folks who may be sensitive to barking or any aggressive behavior.

It’s important to note that a therapy dog is not a service dog. They do not have to perform tasks or know special commands – other than to behave well in public and just be a lovable dog. Another key difference: Service dogs in the United States have a legal right to access public places when performing a service for a handler with a disability, but therapy dogs do not. Therapy dogs must be invited to visit hospitals, nursing homes, and other public places. In general, therapy dogs work with organizations which help to arrange these visits.

What’s Involved in Certification?

Certifying a therapy dog involves three things. First, the animal must be up-to-date on all shots and vaccines and proof of this must be submitted to the organization certifying the animal. Second, the dog will undergo a temperament evaluation to see how they interact in public places, crowds, with strangers and other dogs. Lastly, they are asked to perform a minimum amount of therapy sessions over a specified period of time to obtain and keep their certification.

There are a number of wonderful organizations that are dedicated to sharing the love of their pets with others in need. A perfect example is Paws for Friendship. This 501c charity operates through multiple chapters throughout the United States and certifies dogs as well as other animals for therapy work. Among their ranks are dogs, cats, a miniature horse and an opossum. Each animal is certified healthy, of good temperament and the owner-handlers pledge to attend at least one therapy event per month to keep their certification.

If you believe you have dog or other animal that would make a good therapy candidate, take a few moments to investigate the options for certification in your area. Donating your time and your dog’s presence to therapy sessions is an excellent way to give back to your community and help those around you in need of a little love and attention.

Read more pet-related articles by Terry Mulligan:

Is Massage Therapy Effective for Dogs?
Let Your Cat Climb to New Heights in Style
6 Different Dog Collars and the Purpose They Serve


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