With the plethora of mental illness, high stress, and other stress types out there, many people are turning to therapy dogs. Therapy dogs are an amazing benefit to those who may be suffering from a physical or mental ailment. What makes a good therapy dog, though?
Have you been thinking that your dog might make a great therapy dog? You may be right! I know that a lot of people are taking this step to help others. It’s just a matter of whether or not your dog will be a good fit for therapy. You may just find that they are! Or maybe you are thinking that the next dog that you get should be turned into a therapy dog.
If you are wanting to find out whether or not your dog is well suited for this life, check out this rundown of what makes a good therapy dog and whether or not you should pursue it with your dog.
I was going to certify Rainey as a therapy dog and we even went through pre-testing training. But I realized that she’s just too hyper and very excitable. So, we are going to wait a little longer before moving forward with certification.
Table of Contents
- 1 What makes a good therapy dog?
- 1.1 Are they easy to train?
- 1.2 Is your dog overly friendly with humans?
- 1.3 Does your dog have a calm demeanor? Are they low anxiety and not easily spooked?
- 1.4 Does your dog enjoy touching and affection?
- 1.5 Is not excitable by other dogs
- 1.6 Does your dog behave well in public?
- 1.7 Is your dog patient?
- 2 Some specific training requirements for a good therapy dog
What makes a good therapy dog?
If you are wanting to delve further into what it entails to turn your dog into a therapy dog, first you need to see if your dog is a good fit. Here are the qualities to look for in your dog to see if they would make it as a therapy dog:
Are they easy to train?
Have you found your dog to be easily trainable? When you got your dog, how long did it take them to learn their first trick, or rule? Was it easy to potty train them? If you have had success in training them, then you may want to reach out to a professional training center and see how they do with professional training and then from there you will move on to therapy dog training!
Is your dog overly friendly with humans?
Does your dog seek out humans? Is he or she friendly to all of the humans that they meet, this is a good sign. According to Therapy Dogs International, a therapy dog needs strong social qualities in order to be successful in being a therapy dog.1
Does your dog have a calm demeanor? Are they low anxiety and not easily spooked?
We have all dealt with an anxiety-filled dog at some point, right? Some dogs are just more predisposed to this than others. If you find that your dog has strong anxiety traits, then becoming a therapy dog might not be in their future.
Therapy dogs often work in very public places where there could be crowds of unfamiliar people, such as excitable children, or those who use medical devices which may make noises that are new to the dog. In addition to all of the unfamiliar people, therapy dogs often also have to deal with unfamiliar locations (for example, large buildings, tiny offices, elevators, escalators, hospitals, airports), the dog needs to not be affected by changes like this.
Does your dog enjoy touching and affection?
Therapy dogs need to enjoy the touching and affection that they will be faced with often during the process of therapy. Dogs need to enjoy this and not shy away from it in order to a be a good therapy dog. Here are a couple of must-haves when it comes to touching and therapy dogs.
Therapy dogs often work with children and sometimes young children can be unpredictable. While not meaning to, many little ones will occasionally pet a dog too roughly, or even pull a tail or ear. It’s important that therapy dogs can handle this without flinching.
Additionally, the nature of the job for a therapy dog is to comfort and provide therapy to those who need it. That means hugs and lots of them. While many dogs don’t necessarily love to be hugged by strangers, a therapy dog has to have no problems with it as it will happen a lot. Make sure your dog enjoys long hugs from any and all people, because they will likely experience them.
Is not excitable by other dogs
Dogs need to love people, yes. It’s important though that your dog can easily ignore other dogs in order to be the best therapy dog. Oftentimes therapy dogs will be in the presence of other therapy dogs and that cannot prove to be a distraction. Dogs that are excitable by other dogs can easily rile each other up and become too hyper to offer proper therapy. Additionally, this type of behavior can increase anxiety in even the calmest of dogs.
Does your dog behave well in public?
This kind of goes along with the things we have already talked about, but overall good behavior in public is incredibly important for therapy dogs. If your dog doesn’t do well in public, it may be something as simple as needing further training in this, but it is definitely a concern that should be addressed.
Is your dog patient?
A therapy dog needs to have a lot of patience. Whether there is a child climbing on them, a patient hugging them for longer than expected, or maybe they just need to sit in the same spot for a while, there are plenty of occasions where your dog will need to showcase their patience.
Therapy dogs have a very serious, very important, but very wonderful job! It was no surprise to me at all to learn that there are over 50,000 therapy dogs currently in the United States alone, and their numbers are growing worldwide. Therapy dogs are helpful in dealing with many health conditions, including:
- Traumatic brain injuries
I have also known therapy dogs that have gone to work daily in a maximum security mental health facility and have seen the effects that they can have not only on the patients themselves, but also on the staff that works in the facility. The benefits of a therapy dog is really quite impressive.
Some specific training requirements for a good therapy dog
If you feel a calling to provide your dog as a therapy dog and your dog has displayed the type of personality traits and qualities that we have talked about here, you may want to look into having your dog trained to be a therapy dog. It will make you both feel so good to provide loving help to others.
Here are some basic things that your dog will need to be able to do in order to pass any tests:
- Your dog should sit patiently and not react while you are speaking to someone.
- Your dog is okay with being petted by a stranger without getting excited or upset.
- Good leash skills are a must for your dog. They must be able to walk on a loose leash and follow your commands even in a crowd.
- Your dog must be able to sit and lay down on command and hold these positions. And they then should come directly when called.
- They must not be reactive to other dogs.
- They must not freak out by other distractions (for example loud noise, someone running passed your dog) or strange hospital equipment (such as crutches, wheel chairs, large medical devices).
- Your dog should have a strong leave-it. This means no accepting food from strangers or eating stuff off the ground without your consent. (You don’t want your dog eating medication by accident.)
- You need to be able to leave your dog with a stranger and go out of sight without your dog freaking out or getting stressed.
- Your dog must be friendly and calm towards children as well as adults.