Do you ever think your dog would make a good therapy dog? Many of the people I know and talk with say yes to that question. We love our dogs so much and often we think how nice it would be to share that love with others. We want other people to feel what we feel when we are with our dog and we truly think our dog could help people feel better if they are in a nursing home or in the hospital as just two examples of where therapy dogs visit people.

If we think about dogs providing therapy in the broadest terms I believe all dogs who are loved give that love back to their pet parents and that in itself is therapeutic.

Research has shown a hormone called oxytocin is shared between our dog and us when we experience those hugs and loving gazes into each others eyes. This hormone exchange highlights the warm feeling of being loved. This happens to us at home living with our dog and this exchange also occurs in the pet assisted therapy experience between the dog and whom ever they are visiting. This experience contributes to the success of pet assisted therapy work.

Even though all dogs can share love with us not all dogs are necessarily suited to be pet assisted therapy dogs. Dogs who are not comfortable with new people or new environments would be more stressed doing this work. Temperament is important but so is training.

If you have the perfect dog for doing pet assisted therapy work but your dog has no basic obedience training...this needs to be addressed before doing anything else. 

For a dog to become registered with any pet assisted therapy organization, basic obedience training is a must for the dog to pursue the additional training needed to qualify to do pet assisted therapy work. The training involves class work for the handler and the dog. A dog needs to demonstrate an ability to tolerate loud noises like equipment and elevators as well as new and different people of any age. 

Here are some considerations for pursuing pet assisted therapy work:

1) There are a few organizations available for you and your dog to work with. Pet Partners is one. Inter Mountain Therapy is another. There may be even more. Find one that fits your values and is accommodating for you to work with.

2) There is a cost for the initial training and the ongoing renewal training which varies a bit with each organization. This also involves a clearance from a health standpoint from your vet initially and with each follow up renewal. This is also a cost.

3) You may need to purchase some basic equipment like a short working leash for your dog and a bag to hold the treats and other items like a water dish etc. for the time you are both on the job. Sometimes the organization you trained with has a scarf or other items you may wish to purchase.

4) There is a commitment of time from you. Organizations who rely on volunteers need volunteers to be reliable. Being reliable and professional is important as you are representing the organization you trained with and are representing pet assisted therapy with your conduct. 

5) I find it important to do therapy work with a business or non-profit organization that has a volunteer program in place and specifically a pet assisted therapy volunteer program in place. This can cover possible liability concerns and just makes it easier because the expectations and guidelines are already in place. Things like where to be and where not to be in the facility. Where to enter and exit. Where your dog can go to the bathroom and other specifics to the facility you are visiting.

You could also be the one who helps develop a volunteer pet assisted therapy program where one is needed. That would be awesome!

There are benefits to doing pet assisted therapy work:

1) You feel good seeing the joy your dog brings to other people. You may visit a nursing home or a hospice. You and your dog may need to try a couple different settings before you find one that feels ideal for the two of you. 

2) Your dog develops confidence and experience with new situations and new people. He also enjoys the interaction with the people you are visiting.

3) The bond with you and your dog grows. Your time working together builds respect and appreciation between the two of you. You enjoy being together and learn more about each other in the process. Together you become a solid team which is great experience for both you and your dog.

4) You will quickly learn the staff in the facility need their therapy time with your dog almost as much (if not more sometimes) than the clients you are visiting. You will develop relationships with the staff that will become memorable as well as those with the clients.

I have been doing pet assisted therapy work with Jazz and JIve for almost ten years. We began in Children's Hospital and now are working with children in a trauma pre-school setting. It seems children are our calling. When we are on our walks if a young child is walking or a smaller child is in a stroller, both Jazz and JIve seem to think they need to meet the child. It is not always appropriate for that to happen but when it does the dogs and the child are delighted. 

If you decide to join the world of pet assisted therapy with your loving dog i know you will both benefit and enjoy the journey together.