Service dogs can provide invaluable companionship and comfort to those confined to a home, hospital, or nursing home environment. These animals, along with their owners offer a wonderful therapeutic service. The comfort a pet can bring one who is ill, lonely, or frightened can be dramatic. Pet owners interested in providing this service must prepare in a variety of ways.
One of the first considerations is your petís demeanor. Your dog will need to exhibit a calm, balanced, and friendly attitude. While training will help prepare a dog to act appropriately, dogs that are either aggressive or jumpy will generally not be well suited as ďtherapy dogsĒ. A friendly but overly exuberant dog may accidentally paw, jump, or bump into a person, which isnít acceptable especially when dealing with a frail patient. Therapy dogs will need to remain calm under a variety of conditions.
Your pet will need to tolerate not only a range of people, but other animals too. Your pet may not be the only therapy pet at work and should be able to accept other dogs and cats. Also, the reaction that patients have to your dog cannot always be gauged. While protecting your pet is certainly a handlerís responsibility, your pet needs to be able to withstand pulled fur or rough handling without retaliating.
Adjusting to these specific challenges will depend partly on demeanor and partly on training. Training a dog in a variety of unique and busy situations can teach them to take disrupting situations in stride. Loud noises such as buzzers, bells and alarms would not be an unusual occurrence in a hospital setting. Some wonderful dogs, however, simply never get used to loud noises or just arenít suited for the busy environment that therapy work can bring. This doesnít mean your dog cannot work at all, but may be limited to certain types of therapy work. This isnít a service that can be forced upon a dog; a good therapy dog will enjoy his work.
Joining a therapy dog group is worth consideration. Groups offer training resources and keep you in contact with other handlers. This can be a tremendous resource. Many groups offer insurance, which is extremely valuable in such a litigious society. Also, groups often provide forms of certification that can help you in being accepted in hospitals or nursing homes. A good first step is to obtain a good Canine Citizen Certification. This is open to all dogs and is a good first step in determining if your pet is suited to be a therapy dog. Establishing a relationship with local hospitals or nursing homes will also be an important part of the process. Some places are not open to having pets on their premises, while others will be happy to have a therapy pet visit. While the process of training and certification isnít always easy, the reward for you, your pet, and the patient can be tremendous as handler and pet are providing a truly honorable service.