Becoming a Therapy Dog
Bringing comfort and joy to the sick, injured, and elderly is another activity you can do with your dog. Dogs of all shapes and sizes can bring a smile to the faces of children and adults in therapeutic facilities. You and your dog can be part of this special experience. All you need is time to volunteer and certification for your dog.
Most therapeutic facilities require that your dog receive obedience training, and dogs are usually screened for temperament before they are accepted. Many therapy programs require dogs to sit politely at the edge of a patient's bed and refrain from jumping up on people.
To find out what medical settings in your community need therapy dog visits, contact them first to learn what their requirements are. Most facilities prefer small groups of therapy dog teams rather than just one person with a dog.
It helps if you belong to a therapy dog organization. The three main organizations that provide certification for most therapeutic facilities are the Delta Society Pet Partners Program, Therapy Dogs International, and the AKC Canine Good Citizen Program. Many therapy programs provide their own training and certification, although the basic skills for all programs are pretty much the same.
Types of Programs
There are many different types of therapy work for dogs. While not every breed is suited to perform every task, you can probably find at least one that is a natural match for your dog.
In animal-assisted therapy, dogs can physically help people with tasks that require balance, bracing, or pulling. Assistance dogs can also be taught to open and close doors, turn light switches on and off, and retrieve items around the house.
For dogs with superior swimming ability, life-saving water rescue work is a natural activity. Strong water dogs are trained to tow a person to shore, take a life jacket to a drowning person, and tow a boat.
Canine Search and Rescue is a personally rewarding but highly intense activity that requires dedication and extensive training for you and your dog. Dogs are trained to search for and rescue missing people, and are deployed in emergency situations.
In classrooms, dogs can sit and listen to children who are struggling with reading aloud in a group. Studies show that when children read to a dog, it improves their reading skills.