Therapy Dog Training

Therapy Dog Training

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Sam Basso
PHOENIX , AZ AREA: (602) 708-4531
OR, if you are out of this area, inquire about a telephone or e-Lesson
Email: [email protected]

Meeting with AZ Governor, Doug Ducey, concerning Therapy Dogs in schools
Meeting with AZ Governor, Doug Ducey, concerning Therapy Dogs in schools

What is a therapy dog? People receive comfort from being around dogs. That is why dogs are being used as Therapy Dogs in a variety of settings, such as in hospitals, nursing homes, and in some child care situations. Many people are interested in having their dog certified to be able to do this kind of work, but are unsure as to how to proceed.

The Right Dog: Every dog that is certified as a therapy dog is going to be put through a temperament test. These types of tests are designed to simulate how the dog will react in these environments. The one thing you can’t change about a dog is its temperament. Temperament describes the dogs inborn behavioral interests, abilities and limitations. Some dogs are not suitable for therapy dog work. There are breeds that are too wary of strangers, for example. Almost every person a therapy dog will be expected to meet will start out as a stranger, so a dog that is wary of strangers has the potential to harm them. There are also individual dogs with traits that aren’t desirable for therapy dog work, such as dogs that are overly fearful, anxious, excitable, active, or noisy. So, before you even begin to think about getting ready to try and obtain a certification, you first need to have a common sense idea as to whether you think this dog is going to do good around people who might act strangely; strange smells (such as sick people, chemicals); strange sights (wheelchairs, gurneys), strange places (not all dogs are relaxed and confident in new environments); etc. Another consideration is the age of the dog. Most puppies (under a year of age) are not ready to do therapy dog work, even if they have the right temperament. They need to be older in order to pass the tests. You do best if you get, what I call, a “bulletproof” dog. This is the kind of calm dog that isn’t really rattled by anything, is friendly, confident, likes this kind of work, and willing to please.

Here is an experienced Therapy Dog I trained. He actively worked in hospital and a grade school environment. He passed his evaluation the first time, with an almost perfect score. The testing organization said they hadn’t seen such a well trained dog in years, and that most dogs failed the evaluation the first time.

Training: The basic training for most therapy dogs requires that you take the dog to off leash obedience control. You won’t be able to use treats in the hospital to lure your dog along… you dog needs to obey you. There will be a test of how your dog does on leash doing basic commands around distractions (including other dogs). And then the same test, now off leash. No hospital, nursing home, or child care environment can have a dog in there that isn’t extremely well mannered and obedient. They especially need to have rock solid Sit/ Stays and Down/ Stays; obedient to the Come command; and walking effortlessly on a leash around distractions and obstacles. These dogs also need to have extremely good manners (no jumping, humping, mouthing, barking, etc) without you having to constantly correct them. It is also useful if the dog has been taught a couple of funny tricks. It is important to remember that no amount of training can overcome a problem with a dog’s temperament. You have to start with the right dog. Training also has to be maintained so that the dog remains obedient and well mannered, so the home life must be good for the dog, and the commands and manners kept sharp. Sometimes specialized skills need to be taught, so the training program needs to be tailored to your goals.

Evaluation: There are non-profit organizations that do therapy dog evaluations. You can find them by talking to the hospitals, nursing homes, and child care centers in your area. Find out which certifications you need in advance. Find out which organizations they accept for certification. Then schedule for the evaluation and certification. You will need to study their rules and follow their procedures. Then, go and do the evaluation. Most dogs fail the first time they are evaluated, either because of improper temperament for the job, lack of training, or both. If you pass the temperament tests, but fail on the training, then try again at a later date. If you fail on the temperament test, then this isn’t the right thing for this dog.

Certified And Insured: If you are working within a more structured system, where the hospital requires certification and liability insurance before you can go, then you will have to do that or forget about doing therapy dog work. Generally, if you get your dog certified, you will then get a certificate; some tags and a special vest for your dog; and a liability policy to cover for any damages you or your dog might do in that environment.

Working: Once your dog is certified, then you will be able to go into these facilities. It is best if you network with some other folks that do this same work at that same facility so you learn the ropes. Every facility will have different rules, people, floor plans, and so forth. Start with the easy stuff, and then go from there. This is now where you also need to know what you are doing. If you don’t have a good idea of why you are there, or if you don’t have good people skills and an understanding of what these patients need emotionally and physically, then you aren’t ready to go solo. If you aren’t cut out for this kind of thing, even if your dog is, then it isn’t going to work out. You also need to be a competent dog handler and leader. It doesn’t matter how much training the dog has, if you haven’t earned the skills to handle a dog, then it will be a disaster and someone could be injured.

Therapy dog work is rewarding, and you will bring joy and healing into the lives of others. There are proven benefits. But you need to plan ahead to do it right. I have the hands on experience to help you get there.

Sam Basso is a professional dog trainer and behaviorist, in the Phoenix/ Scottsdale metropolitan area. He’s known for being fun, kind, intelligent, and humane. Sam Basso has a unique personal touch. He has appeared on his own TV show, been a guest radio expert, gives seminars, publishes a dog related blog, does rescue volunteering, and is active in promoting animal welfare and fair dog laws.

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