Therapy dog information
I receive many inquiries asking how to do go about becoming a Therapy Dog? There's no one way to do it, but I thought I'd create a page giving a step-by-step 'guideline' to becoming a Therapy Dog. This is by no means a one size fits all approach!
1.) Many times people already have a dog. The dog must have the personality to be a therapy dog. You can't train personality. Outgoing, friendly, enjoys being around people and children are the basic requirements of any potential candidate. A shy, skiddish, fearful dog probably wouldn't be a good candidate for Therapy Work and would best be suited to being the family pet where he/she is most comfortable.
2.) Training starts as soon as the dog steps foot into your home. Therapy Dogs International DOES NOT require any formal obedience training before a dog can test. That means you can do all the training yourself at home and simply take the test. Many people find it extremely helpful to go through obedience classes with a trainer so it is ensured that they are doing things properly. If you do plan on going to classes, start the dog in puppy class at 10weeks old or if you adopted the dog start a beginner class as soon as you adopt the dog. Any potential therapy dog has to be heavily socialized around people and other dogs to ensure a friendly temperament as an adult dog. Obviously, in adopted dogs your not going to have this opportunity but many of them are suitable for Therapy Work with time and training.
3.) Utilize some of the other "along the way" testings to ensure your on "the right track." Once again, Therapy Dogs International DOES NOT require that any of these be taken, but rest assured it's highly unlikely a dog can pass the TDI test if they can't pass a AKC S.T.A.R. Puppy, CGC, and CGCA test.
4.) Look into and familiarize yourself with the rules and regulations of testing. The dog must be a year old, flat buckle collar and 6ft nylon leash, be UTD on vaccinations etc. in order to test. You can find all of that wonderful information by taking a cruise around TDI's website right here.
5.) Plan on putting in a year worth of training into a Therapy Dog, even if you adopt them as an adult. The shortest amount of time I've been able to get a dog ready was 8 months, and that was 2 of my own dogs.
6.) I pass about 30-40% of the dogs that I test as Therapy Dogs. This is a dog that's going out in the community, representing a National Organization, as well as myself as an Evaluator, and I have 30 minutes to determine whether or not the dog is suitable for it...with that being a dog I've never met before. It's a judgment call, and it's not always an easy one. I want everyone safe and happy. The dog, the owner, and the facility. If I even have one inkling of a doubt there could be a problem, I won't pass the dog. I wouldrather the dog re-try the test than potentially eat a small child's dinner on their dinner tray at a hospital because they struggled with the leave it portion on the test, or run into someone with a wheelchair because they are pulling their owner down the main hallway of a hospital when they had trouble heeling during testing. Both situations are equally frightening and both situations warrant more training before I could pass the dog. On the flip side, I'm not looking to fail the dogs. This is all volunteer on my part...I didn't put all this work into becoming an evaluator and scheduling the testing's to simply fail a bunch of dogs, that's ludicrous. I'm strict. I've been in your shoes. I know what's it's like in a facility and the expectations of both the dog and handler are. I'm hard on both dogs and the handler, but I can promise you it's worth it.
7.) It's 100% worth all the time and effort it takes when you see that child smile in the hospital, or can actually read a book to the dog that they've never been able to read before. The time that you see a parent say I haven't heard my child speak the entire time he/she has been here, you've made our day. There is nothing more rewarding, that much I do promise!