Therapy dogs perform important work in the community! They bring support, love, and animal companionship to people of all ages in a variety of settings. Though sometimes mistaken for assistance dogs, therapy dogs do not have the same public access rights as assistance dogs. Therapy dogs are designed to be calm, loving, polite visitors.
Required Canine and Handler Skills
As a dog owner, it can be difficult to objectively assess your dog's skills to determine if he is appropriate. If you are considering working with your dog in a therapy dog team capacity, review the following skills:
Required canine skills include:
- Demonstrates genuine love and affection for people
- Demonstrates exceptional social skills and manners
- Demonstrates ability to follow directions in the midst of distractions
- Greets people politely (four paws on the floor)
- Calmly accepts petting from unfamiliar people
- Interacts comfortably with people of all ages without stress or anxiety
- Remains well-controlled and polite around other dogs
- Functions comfortably around medical equipment
Required handler skills include:
- Utilizes positive reinforcement when training and working with his/her dog
- Respects, enjoys, and loves his/her dog
- Enjoys being around people
- Friendly and polite
- Excellent active listening skills
- Ability to communicate with different populations
- Understands and follows the rules of confidentiality
- Remains aware of his/her dog at all times and is in control
- Praises the dog's good behavior and redirects inappropriate behavior
- Recognizes stress in his/her dog and is aware of ways to relieve it promptly
Please remember these important points!
- All breeds of dogs can be therapy dogs.
- It is very strongly recommended that you do not obtain a puppy with the intention of the dog becoming a therapy dog. It is difficult to predict what the dog's temperament will be at the age of two or three, even if the dog's breed is one typically associated with having a calm, gentle nature.
- Dogs must be one year of age to be tested/observed to become a therapy dog. If you and your dog pass the therapy dog test and required observations, do not make the assumption that your dog will be willing and eager to work in all environments.
- Do not fault your dog if he/she is uncomfortable on particular visits. Respect his/her skills and match your dog appropriately.
Credit: "What is a Therapy Dog?" used with permission from Compassionate Canines, Incorporated, Neenah WI, Copyright © 2015