How to Get a Therapy Dog

A Partnership in Wellness

Therapy dogs bring smiles to patients of residential facilities every day. Staff members often ask how to get a therapy dog to visit their facility once they understand the benefits these furry friends can bring to the residents. The following questions and answers offer important information about therapy dog certification:

What is a therapy dog?

Therapy dogs are volunteers that bring comfort to people living in places like nursing homes, hospitals and assisted living facilities. Therapy dogs work with their owners to improve the lives of others.

There are three types of therapy dogs:

  1. Therapeutic Visitation Dogs visit people in institutions like hospitals and rehabilitation facilities. Their main goal is simply to bring joy.
  2. Animal Assisted Therapy Dogs assist physical and occupational therapy patients in meeting their individual goals. They help patients improve their mobility, hand-eye coordination and fine motor skills.
  3. Facility Therapy Dogs work mainly in nursing homes to help residents with mental illness or dementia stay safe. They live in the facility and are handled by a trained staff member.

How are therapy dogs certified?

To be certified as an American Kennel Club (AKC) therapy dog, the dog must undergo an assessment and certification process administered by a qualified therapy dog organization. The AKC does not train or certify therapy dogs, but the organization awarding the certification must be recognized by the AKC.

The dog must also complete the required number of visits in order to earn each of the AKC therapy dog titles:

  • AKC Therapy Dog Novice (THDN): 10 Visits
  • AKC Therapy Dog (THD): 50 Visits
  • AKC Therapy Dog Advanced (THDA): 100 Visits
  • AKC Therapy Dog Excellent (THDX): 200 Visits
  • AKC Therapy Dog Distinguished (THDD): 400 Visits

What assessments are required?

First, dogs must be up-to-date on all vaccinations and be in good overall health to be considered for certification. The AKC Canine Good Citizen (CGC) test is required by most therapy dog organizations. Dogs must pass all 10 items on the CGC test to be certified:

  1. Accepting a Friendly Stranger
  2. Sitting Politely for Petting
  3. Appearance and Grooming
  4. Walking on a Loose Lead
  5. Walking Through a Crowd
  6. Sit and Stay on Command
  7. Coming When Called
  8. Reaction to Another Dog
  9. Reaction to Distraction
  10. Supervised Separation

Depending on the therapy dog organization you choose for certification, there may be other requirements in addition to the CGC test.

Why are therapy dog organizations important?

The trainers who work with AKC-recognized therapy dog organizations are experts in their field. Because of their dedication, knowledge and skill, the work of therapy dogs continues to grow and advance. These trainers are the most qualified people in the field to accurately train and assess dogs seeking this certification.

Do all therapy dogs need to have a good temperament?

No matter the dog’s breed or size, the most important characteristic of any therapy dog is an outstanding temperament. The dog must be friendly and outgoing with people of all ages, tolerant of clumsy handling by patients and non-aggressive towards other animals. Therapy dogs should also be non-reactive to disturbances like loud noises. It’s not necessary for therapy dogs to do tricks, but they must be able to obey basic commands.

What kind of therapy dog training is needed before the assessment?

When hiring a certified trainer to prepare for the CGC test, find one who uses positive reinforcement training methods. The American Kennel Club also offers a series of classes to prepare your dog for the CGC test, including an Advanced Manners class, AKC Canine Good Citizen Prep class and AKC Community Canine Prep class. These classes will practice and review the 10 exercises required in the CGC test.

Therapy dogs provide an invaluable service to patients confined in residential facilities. If you think your dog has the right temperament for the job, consider becoming a part of this high-demand volunteer opportunity.

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