Therapy dogs have a job to do, and they do it well. Much like traditional human therapists, therapy dogs are trained to be patient while humans interact with them in a meaningful and heartfelt way. Therapy dogs are not alone in their jobs, though: They work in a team with their owner to produce healing results. What qualities make a good therapy dog candidate? Let’s discuss:
A Social Butterfly (With Humans)
Not all dogs love to interact with people. If you have a dog who loves all who come across them, they could be a good candidate. The American Kennel Club describes social qualities such as “An undiscriminating love for all people he meets, a willingness to voluntarily seek out people to interact with.”
If your dog’s a love-bug, then this is an excellent start to therapy work.
Ignores Other Dogs
Interestingly, as much as a therapy dog should be open and friendly with humans, they should not have a huge interest in other dogs. While on the clock, therapy dogs are working! When dogs socialize with each other, they can rile each other up or cause anxiety when the therapy dog needs to focus. When working, therapy dogs are meant to be patient and calm in all surroundings.
Not Easily Spooked
Therapy dogs work in all kinds of public-facing institutions such as nursing homes, children’s hospitals, and more. Due to this, some factors are sometimes outside of anyone’s control. For instance, a child may be overly excited or scared of dogs and may react by yelling or touching the dog when they are not looking. Besides the people factor, a therapy dog may have to ride elevators, walk across different surfaces, or hear unusual noises than they are used to.
A therapy dog needs to naturally not respond aggressively or in fear, and understand their surroundings are sometimes new and unknown.
Likes Being Touched
Due to the nature of the job, therapy dogs are being touched a lot and sometimes not very gently. Therapy dogs have to be okay with the occasional pull of the tail, or rough petting sometimes brought on by very young children.
Most importantly, a therapy dog has to be trained to like hugs. Most dogs will not enjoy hugs from strangers, but with a therapy dog, it’s a given that many people will want to hug this calming, enjoyable presence. Make sure that your therapy dog doesn’t just tolerate hugs, but can genuinely enjoy them for long periods. Patience is key.
Therapy dogs, much like human therapists, go through vigorous training to get a certificate in therapy. If professional organizations have not properly trained your dog, the first thing many experts suggest is to go to obedience school to learn the basics. After the basics are covered, there are specific classes a dog can take to achieve therapy dog status.
However, not all therapy classes are alike! The AKC has provided a list of accredited companies that offer certificate programs for therapy dogs.