Defining a Therapy Dog

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According to Wikipedia a Therapy Dog is a dog that is trained to provide affection and comfort to people in hospitals, retirement homes, nursing homes, schools, hospices, disaster areas, and to people with learning difficulties. What this definition fails to mention is that not all dogs make good therapy dogs. Some dogs are fearful or nervous around people, some dogs are great with adults but nervous with small children, some dogs are great one on one with a person but not in large groups.  Dogs are very much like us and when considering whether or not your dog should be a therapy dog you must consider your dogs mental well being.  Once that has been established the first step is basic obedience training.  A therapy dog must be able to listen to you in a therapy environment. Then I always encourage my clients to pursue AKC Canine Good Citizen and then take the test offered through Therapy Dog International.  My Advanced Class helps those dogs who are therapy dog ready to prepare for both tests.

Every once in awhile I come across a dog who is a natural for therapy dog work.  Tashi pictured above was a rescue dog who was roaming the streets.  Her owner adopted her from the local rescue. She worked very hard with her pup socializing her and attending Basic Obedience classes and continuing on with private lessons and more obedience.  Tashi is not perfect, nor is any dog.  She came with her set of baggage which included fear of noises such as metal clinking and even the sound of a training clicker would upset her.  Tashi’s mom diligently worked with her using positive reinforcement to overcome these issues.  Yesterday during training Tashi walked across metal with her toes clinking, went though a hula hoop raised off the ground and crossed a box that bent inward without any fear.  She also went under a metal fence to get to some yummy grass on the other side.  However, that is not the only thing that Tashi did yesterday. At the end of the session Tashi sat quietly and provided comfort to a very upset child. Tashi never left the child’s side and put the child at ease. Tashi’s mom also talked to the child about all the colors in Tashi’s coat and retold her story taking the child’s mind off what it was that had upset her. That is my definition of a true therapy dog team. I look forward to my continued work with Tashi and her Mom both are going to make a tremendous difference in this world.

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One Response to “Defining a Therapy Dog”

  1. Jacquelin Says:

    It is hard to describe exactly what the elements of personality are that make a dog a ‘natural’ for going down the path of fostering behaviors for the benefit of others’ welfare, but Tashi gives us more confirmation about this each day. Thank you, Dixie, for your ever-present observations and guidance. We continue this very positive training process with joy and natural good-will.


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