Therapy dogs provide an important service. Their comforting nature can provide support to people in a range of settings, like hospitals, retirement homes, and schools. A simple visit can make all the difference to lift someone’s spirits and boost moral for someone going through treatment, therapy or recovery.
While therapy dogs can be any breed or size, there is a process of testing and certification that takes place before a dog can become a therapy dog.
Here are some qualities to look for in your dog:
Therapy dogs need to have a calm temperament. While having a love of people is definitely an important quality for a therapy dog, dogs that get overly excited or affectionate around people (e.g., jumping, pawing or licking) can be jarring for people in hospitals or senior homes.
While your dog may be very loving and affectionate to you and your family, not all dogs enjoy being around a lot of unfamiliar people. Therapy dogs need to be eager to meet and connect with all people. It’s this connection that brings about the therapeutic benefits of a therapy dog’s visit.
Therapy dogs may encounter a lot of unfamiliar sounds and objects during its visits. Your dog must react well when faced with distractions. If your dog is easily distracted or scared when faced with unfamiliar situations, sounds or objects, your dog may not enjoy the experience.
If your dog shows these qualities and is at least one year of age, then your pup may be a suitable candidate to become a therapy dog!
St. John’s Ambulance and Pet Partners (formerly Delta Society) both offer therapy dog programs as well as testing and certification. Some organizations may ask you to complete Canine Good Neighbour training (issued through the Canadian Kennel Club) to show that your dog has knowledge of basic obedience and manners.
By taking part in the therapy dog program, you’ll be dong a great service and will be able to share a memorable and rewarding volunteer experience with your dog. For the people you’ll be visiting, the unconditional love of a dog will help brighten their day and do wonders for their physical and emotional wellbeing.