How Do I Know If My Dog Is A Good Candidate For Pet Therapy?
Therapy dogs come in all sizes, ages, breeds, and personalities. A love of people is the number one requirement followed closely by a naturally relaxed temperament. Great therapy dogs can come from all walks of life: rescues, shelters, breeders, and even strays.
Certain dog temperaments and sizes make some dogs better suited for one type of pet therapy than another. Some smaller dogs are ideally suited for hospice work because they can be lifted onto a bed and maneuver around the client. Larger dogs might be specially suited for rehabilitation programs because they are accessible to those in wheelchairs. Some dogs seem to thrive around the noisy, active environment of children, whereas others seem to prefer the pace and gentleness of a nursing home.
Also keep in mind that while therapy dogs are well-behaved and gentle, they are not perfectly trained robots. Therapy dog owners all report that when the therapy dog vest comes off at home, their dog returns to being, well, a dog. When “off duty” therapy dogs still might be digging holes where they shouldn’t, stealing food off the table, or chasing after the occasional cat or squirrel, that’s where the training part comes in. A good candidate for pet therapy is a dog motivated to please his owner either in exchange for a “good boy” or a handful of treats. In addition to some common obedience commands, proper therapy dog training teaches the dog to know what behavior is expected in different situations.
There are also various requirements based on what group provides the therapy dog certification. Common requirements of these groups are: The dog must be at least one year old at the time of testing (there is no age limit); the owner must have lived with the dog for at least six months (some require one year); and the dog is generally healthy. Note that healthy does not mean without differences; there are therapy dogs that are blind, deaf, or missing limbs. Often, these physical disabilities can be a great asset and an inspiration to their human clients who are living with their own differences and challenges.
Dog trainers and behaviorists, and some veterinarians, can screen your pet to help you determine if they are a good candidate to be a therapy dog. Many therapy dog training programs provide a seminar or use the first meeting of a training program to initially evaluate temperament and suitability of your dog for the work.