If you haven’t read Part I yet, click here to learn about the nine species of animals that qualify to become therapy animals and the different terms used to describe the various jobs that animals do.
How does a pet become a therapy animal? Here is how to get started:
Answer the following questions, keeping your animal in mind.
Does your animal:
- seek out people and enjoy their company?
- seem confident around new stimuli?
- meet new animals in a calm manner?
- respond positively to all ages, genders, ethnicities, and personality types?
If you answered yes to all of the questions listed above, then your animal may have the aptitude for therapy work!
Ask your animal! A good way to tell if your animal really likes people is to try a “consent test.” Exactly like it sounds, it may indicate whether your animal would like doing therapy work.
Dogs that are uncomfortable visiting people may turn their head away, back up or avoid the person, lick their lips, yawn, do a “shake off” (like they just had a bath), etc. Check out this Youtube video “Does Your Dog REALLY Want to be Petted?” by Eileenanddogs for how to do a “consent” test.
Note: If you have a species other than a dog, go to the Resource Library section of the Pet Partners website for a list of typical stress responses for them. Just type in your animal’s species for more information.
- Attend a free “Introduction to Therapy Animals” presentation!
- Register at: www.northstartherapyanimals.org
- Review the three national websites and decide which one fits best for you and your animal.
Tips for dog handlers:
- Obedience train your dog! Dogs need to instill confidence in the people they visit. Nothing like a handler “water skiing” down the hallway trying to hold their dog back as they chase the resident nursing home cat, to make people feel a bit concerned.
- Utilize positive methods for training. The three national therapy dog organizations will not allow handlers to test or visit using negative training equipment on their dogs. That might include pinch, prong, choke, shock collars, etc… A more seamless way to train your dog is to find a training school that utilizes positive training methods throughout the levels. There is a list of some of the positive training schools with therapy dog classes at North Star Therapy Animals.
- Take and pass the Canine Good Citizen (CGC) test with your dog. While the CGC is a general obedience test for any pet dog, many of the skills in this test are in all three of the evaluations for the national groups. The CGC certificate is often a pre-requisite for many therapy dog classes. More information here.
- Take a Therapy Dog Class. As an evaluator for therapy animals, it has been my experience that people that take a Therapy Dog Class gain more knowledge about best practices and have a much higher percentage of passing one of the national tests
If you think you and your pet will make the perfect therapy team, we hope you will go through these steps and choose to make a difference today!
Written by Patti Anderson, C.P.D.T., Paws Abilities Therapy Dog Trainer