When we're "Hitting the Town with our Hounds" that topic frequently comes up and often people ask how they and their dogs could participate as therapy dogs. So, here is the scoop!
***** What is a therapy dog?
In the most basic of terms, a therapy dog is a highly trained volunteer.The dog is trained to provide affection and comfort to people in retirement homes, hospitals, rehabilitation facilities, schools, detentions centers and libraries. Often the people they visit have physical impairments, learning difficulties or are under extreme stress.
***** What does a therapy dog do?
A lot depends on the size of the dog and where it visits.
A therapy dog's job is to allow strangers to pet it and to enjoy that contact. Children in particular enjoy hugging animals; adults usually enjoy simply petting the dog or touching it and talking.
At a hospital, a dog might need to lay next to someone on a bed or simply sit in a chair next to a person while being petted.
At a nursing home, a dog may go from room-to-room to say hello and if it is small enough, it can sit in someone's lap while being petted.
At a school or library, a dog will lay down next to a child and listen to the child read aloud.
At other facilities, the dogs may perform tricks, play ball and be groomed or simply listen to somebody's secrets.
***** Does a therapy dog really provide help?
Yes. There are many univierisities, organizations, including the Delta Society, and hospitals that have proven repeatedly through scientific investigations that therapy dogs can provide mental and physical benefits to the people that they visit and interact with.
- Improve fine motor skills
Improve standing equilibrioceptions (AKA balance)
- A 2007 study
- Increase vocabulary
- Improve willingness to be involved in a group activity.
***** What types of dogs make good therapy dogs?
Therapy dogs come in all shapes, sizes and breeds, including limited editions breeds (also known as mixed breeds).
The most important characteristic of a therapy dog is its temperament. A good therapy dog must be friendly, patient, confident, and gentle. They must enjoy human contact and be content to be petted and handled, sometimes clumsily.
***** Do I have to take a test?
Yes. All organizations that provide therapy dog certifications require testing of the dogs and humans as a team.
Tests are similar to a basic obedience test or the equivalent of the AKC's Canine Good Citizen test. Can the dog walk on lead without pulling? Can you meet a friendly stranger without the dog jumping on them? Does the dog know sit and down? Can the dog do a 1-minute down stay?
These tests, while different with each organization, ensure that a dog can handle sudden loud or strange noises, can walk on assorted unfamiliar surfaces comfortably, and is not frightened by people with canes, wheelchairs, or unusual styles of walking or moving.
The human part of the team is also generally required to take a basic open book test on visiting procedures.
***** If we pass the test, does that mean my dog can go everywhere with me including stores and restaurants?
Therapy dogs are not service dogs and do not have the same rights.
Service dogs directly assist humans, and have a legal right to accompany their owners in most areas. In the United States, service dogs are legally protected at the federal level by the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990.
Therapy dogs do not provide direct assistance and are not mentioned in the Americans with Disabilities Act.
***** Where can my dog and I visit?
Where you and your dog visit depends on where you're located, what interests you, the time of day that you're able to volunteer, etc. And, where you AND your dog are most comfortable.
Places that are visited in the Kansas City area:
- Alternative Schools
- Head Start programs
- Women's Shelters
- Group homes
- Nursing homes
- Retirement communities
- Rehabilitation facilities
- Detention centers
- Menal health facilities
- and many more.
That depends on you, your dog and the place you visit.
If you're part of a READ program, you and your dog will go to a school or library on a regular basis. Kids will read aloud to the dog while you and the dog listen.
At a nursing home, you might visit certain residents that are bed ridden to "say Hello" and chat for awhile about your dog, the weather, etc. Then, you go out in to an activities room to "say Hello" and then have your dog play ball or do tricks.
Truly, all of it is dependent upon you, your dog and the facility.
***** How do I get involved?
There are two animal therapy programs in the metropolitan area: Pets for Life and Mo-Kan Pet Partners which is affiliated with the Delta Society out of Washington state.
Both organizations provide certification and will assist you in getting started as well as setting up visits.
In my humble opinion, which is simply my opinion, Quincy and I have been certfied through both groups and done visits for both. But, the groups are different.
Pets for Life has more visits available throughout the metropolitan area and at different times of day which allows more flexibility for those that work.
Mo-Kan Pet Partners is a more intensive test and is geared more toward assisting facilities in goal-based animal-assisted therapy. When working in this type of pet therapy, the visits are more likely to be during the day.
***** Good luck and happy volunteering!