Basic Obedience Skills
Most dogs that do therapy visits have to sit or lie down and stay for extended periods of time while you visit with the patient or staff. Being able to hold the sit or down for as long as you need them to is important since you don't want to have to keep nagging your dog to stay with the patient.
Goldens make great therapy dogs. Here, a four-year-old male participates in pet-assisted therapy at a local hospital.
You should be able to get your dog to sit or lie in any position around a wheelchair, regular chair, bed, or walker. Remember that a patient's reach may be limited. If yours is a smaller Golden, you may want to teach a “Paws-up” command so that you can help the patient reach your dog to pat him. Teaching your dog to put his front paws on a chair next to the patient is a great solution for someone confined to a bed or wheelchair.
Walking without pulling is also a necessity since many facilities have slippery tile floors and lots of foot traffic. Teaching your dog to walk nicely next to you is important for overall safety of patients, dogs, and staff as well as the impression you make with your dog.
Appropriate greeting behavior is also necessary if your dog is going to succeed in this endeavor. Your dog should not jump on anyone. Nor should he paw or lick except on command. In many facilities the patients are quite fragile and cannot tolerate any impact of a paw or toenail that may bruise or scratch their fragile skin. An acceptable greeting involves sitting or lying down and staying until told otherwise.
Being able to direct your dog to interact with a patient will make your visits more meaningful. If your dog knows how to go under a table, or to the left or right of a chair or bed, you will be able to more easily direct him to maximize the contact between patient and dog.
Handlers who allow their dogs to pull them wildly do not inspire much confidence from the staff in their ability to control their dog around fragile patients. If necessary consider using a Gentle Leader head collar (see Chapter 9) to help prevent pulling so that you can reward your dog for more appropriate behavior.
For advanced therapy work involving participation in treatment sessions, you might consider teaching or refining your dog's abilities to retrieve objects. Being able to hold the object until the patient can take it from them and being able to deliver it directly to the person's hand or lap are polished qualities. Facilities need these skills to make their program more successful. Teaching your dog the commands up, under, left, and right will make his retrieving skills more useful in therapy sessions.