Therapy dogs, which visit nursing homes, hospitals, and other places to cheer up people who need a little extra love and attention. While every dog has the potential to be a therapy dog, these four-legged volunteers do require special training in order to pass their certification tests. If you’re looking for an adorable way to help others—and have some fun yourself—consider what it takes to train a puppy into being a certified therapy dog.
Choose a puppy that enjoys being around people and other dogs.
There is no such thing as a universal “good people” dog, but there are certain breeds that will give you a better chance of success. Puppies are more likely to be social if they are raised around other animals in addition to people and dogs. This can include cats, birds and even fish! If your puppy has been used to living with several types of animals outside the family home and gets along well with them, this is an excellent sign for future therapy work.
If you have owned or grown up with more than one pet at once (for example: two dogs), then it’s likely the puppy will have learned how to interact positively with other pets from an early age.
Socialize your puppy as soon as possible.
You may not know this, but puppies are actually very social creatures. They love to play with other dogs, interact with people and investigate the world around them. Unfortunately for your puppy, there is a lot of information that they don’t know about yet! For example:
- How to walk on a leash without pulling
- What’s safe to eat off the floor
- What happens when they bark too much or chew on things they shouldn’t
Obedience train your dog at an early age.
Good news, it’s not too late! There are several ways you can start training your dog now to be a therapy dog.
- Obedience train your puppy at an early age. One of the most important things you can do is start obedience training right away, even if your puppy is only three to six months old. Training with positive reinforcement will help build a strong bond between you and your pup so that he or she will want to please you when given tasks or commands later on in life. It also helps prevent problems like jumping up onto people and chewing on furniture as they get older.
- Teach basic commands such as “sit” and “stay” early on in order to make sure your dog understands basic etiquette around other people later in life (and so many more!). It’s nice when dogs know how sit politely for petting; it shows that they’re being well-mannered towards others who might want affection from them!
Teach your therapy dog to tolerate handling of all types, including hugging and petting by children.
You’ll need to teach your dog to tolerate being hugged, petted and touched by people. If a child wants to hug your dog or scratch his ears, let him. A person with a disability may want to touch your dog so that he can feel the effects of therapy dogs. He might be blind and want to run his hands over your dog’s coat or paws. Your dog should be comfortable with this sort of interaction.
Your puppy will also need training in how to behave toward people with disabilities and illnesses commonly associated with therapy dogs—diabetes, blindness and MS are just some examples—and particularly those who need assistance while they work out their disability issues (for example, if they’re blind).
Insist on good manners from your therapy dog at all times.
This principle is so important that it merits repeating: If a therapist sees your dog misbehave, they will likely not want to work with you. It’s fine for a therapy dog to play and get excited in between sessions, but never allow bad behavior to go unchecked. Your dog needs to know that there are boundaries on what is acceptable behavior and what isn’t.
You can teach good manners in so many ways—through obedience training, positive reinforcement, and even simply by being consistent with your expectations of how he should behave around people.
Enroll your dog in a Canine Good Citizen (CGC) class and pass the test.
A Canine Good Citizen (CGC) certification is a good way to see how well your puppy would respond in certain situations, like being around other dogs or people. It’s also a test that measures their basic obedience skills. You can enroll in a CGC class at your local humane society or pet store, and then pass the test when you’re done.
Make sure your therapy dog is properly vaccinated before visiting nursing homes or hospitals.
You will need to visit a veterinarian to get your therapy dog properly vaccinated. Vaccinations are crucial in keeping your pet healthy and safe, especially if you plan on visiting nursing homes or hospitals with your pup.
There are several steps that must be taken when vaccinating a pet:
- You must make sure the vaccination is right for you and your dog’s age
- Your vet should explain how each vaccination works and why they are necessary
- You should be given instructions on when and how often your puppy needs to receive these vaccines
Work with your therapy dog in public places.
Now that you’ve gotten your puppy comfortable with the idea of going to a public place, it’s time to start taking him out in public! Begin by practicing at home, then move on to a local park or dog-friendly cafe or restaurant. When choosing a place, make sure it’s one where you feel comfortable and can get help if needed.
If your dog is still young and still needs supervision when he’s off-leash (like most puppies do), then keep an eye on him while he’s outside enjoying the new smells and sights around him. If he suffers from separation anxiety or other behavioral issues that prohibit unsupervised training sessions, then consider taking him out in public during hours when someone else will be available for assistance—this could be another family member who will watch over both you and your puppy simultaneously (or just you so long as it’s okay with them).
A well-trained therapy dog can help people feel better, but it’s important to choose the right puppy and take good care of him or her doing training
To be a successful therapy dog, your puppy must enjoy being around people and other dogs. You can test this by bringing the puppy into situations where there’s a lot of activity—a park or school playground are good examples—and seeing how he or she reacts. If you have children in the household, it’s important to make sure they play with the puppy outside before introducing him or her to unfamiliar children.
If you’re thinking about becoming a certified pet therapy team member with an organization like Therapy Dogs International (TDI), you’ll need to submit an application and pass their standardized testing process first.
When you have a dog that understands basic obedience commands and is accustomed to greeting people and being in new places, you’re ready to start acclimating the puppy to different settings. Practice with friends and family members by visiting different locations on a regular basis, such as nursing homes or hospitals where therapy dogs may be used for visits.