Therapy dog training can complement your regular services. Help your clients train their dogs to visit nursing homes, schools and hospitals, and reap the rewards of helping others.
What is a therapy dog?
A therapy dog and its handler are trained to provide companionship and comfort to people in nursing homes, schools, on college campuses or in counselor’s offices, and similar places.
A therapy dog is not an emotional support animal (ESA). A therapy dog is not a service animal — therapy dogs do not perform specific tasks to assist their handlers.
To become a therapy dog, a dog must be trained to travel, potty on cue outdoors, and maintain polite behavior in busy public spaces. This includes polite behavior around children and adults of differing abilities, other dogs, and sometimes other small animals.
A brief overview of therapy dog certification organizations
In the United States, there are a few certifying bodies for therapy dogs, and the requirements for certification vary. Each organization has its own policies and procedures, as well as membership fees. Liability insurance is often included for the price of membership, but check each organization’s policy for details.
Below are the registration and membership fees for each organization. Additional fees such as those for background checks or optional additional liability coverage (such as that offered by Business Insurers of the Carolinas) is not included:
Alliance of Therapy Dogs
Cost: One person, one dog, $40/year; One person, two dogs, $50/year (2018)
Love on a Leash
The American Kennel Club also offers Therapy Dog titles, which you can earn by qualifying your dog via an organization above, and tracking your dog’s therapy visits.
What training is required for therapy dogs?
- Settle. The dog must be able to settle quietly, out of the way of traffic, on-leash for up to 30 minutes at a time.
- Sit-stay or down-stay. A solid sit- or down-stay is necessary in the event of an emergency, or other people or animals entering or exiting the area.
- Polite greeting. The dog must keep all four feet on the floor while being petted or handled, unless requested to do otherwise.
- Confidence around unusual sights, sounds and smells. The dog will encounter several different sights, sounds and smells, depending on the location and people present.
- Comfortable being hugged, or held (small dogs). The dog must be prepared for people to act in ways dogs usually do not appreciate. This includes being hugged, or if it is a small dog, picked up by a stranger, as anything can happen. Other areas the dog should be comfortable being touched by strangers include its collar, ears, face, tail and paws.
- Loose-leash walking. Walking politely on a loose leash in the face of distractions is a must for therapy dogs.
- Calmness around other animals. The dog can show mild interest in another pet, therapy dog, or animal, but otherwise should remain quiet and attentive to its handler.
The AKC’s Canine Good Citizen Test is a good place to learn about many of the behaviors required of registered therapy dogs.
Should I offer therapy dog training to my clients?
If you are versed in the Canine Good Citizen Test, whether as a participant or evaluator, and have familiarized yourself with the various therapy dog organizations’ testing requirements, yes. Offering therapy dog training can be a valuable service for clients who are interested in pursuing certification.
Be sure to clarify that you are offering therapy dog training, not certification or registration (unless you are an approved evaluator through a therapy dog registration organization)!
How will I help my client register her dog as a therapy dog?
Encourage your client to research therapy dog registration organizations. Together you can choose one that is the right fit for them. Then, explore the organization’s policies, procedures and requirements together. Shape your training program by what will be expended of the dog to pass its therapy dog test.
Can a therapy dog program benefit my business?
Find out if there are existing therapy dog organizations or chapters in your area, and reach out to its directors with your business information. Offer to set up training scenarios, workshops and provide educational handouts about training skills that your clients can use. Be available to answer members’ questions, and direct new members to the organization.
Or, if you have the time and are ready to make the commitment, start your own therapy dog chapter or group. People in need of creature comforts will appreciate the joy of a well-trained dog.