How to Train Your Dog to Become a Therapy Dog

Medium
2-4 Months
Work

Introduction

Many people use therapy dogs for many different situations. People who have therapy dogs may need their therapy dog to help with conditions such as autism, social therapy, or anxiety. Some dogs are trained to be therapy dogs so they can assist with the elderly. Moreover, many dogs are trained to be the best companion they can be for members of our service and civil workers who often suffer from conditions such as PTSD. Therapy dogs provide comfort and affection to their owners, and some therapy dogs go to places such as group homes to provide the people who live there the same comfort and affection. Studies show therapy dogs are beneficial in opening hearts and minds of people around the world. Children with autism who struggle socially seem to connect with therapy dogs when they do not have an emotional connection with people.

Defining Tasks

Because therapy dogs work in various settings, whether with their owner or in groups of people such as in nursing homes, group home facilities, hospitals, schools, libraries, police stations, and other facilities where they will come in contact with various people, you will want to spend time training your therapy dog. Work with his abilities to be around different personalities and recognize how to handle different situations, emotions, and feelings of the people he is helping. Training a therapy dog begins with socializing your dog as a puppy. He is going to need to know how to adapt to different environments and different people. If you would like to register your dog as a therapy dog, he will need to be registered through a national therapy dog organization once he is trained. Because therapy dogs and service dogs are completely different, your therapy dog does not need to be registered. This is especially true if you plan to use your therapy dog within your own home. However, if you plan to take your therapy dog into hospitals, nursing homes, group homes, or civil worker station such as police and fire, you may want to have your dog officially trained and registered through the Therapy Dogs International or the AKC Star Puppy Program.

Getting Started

To get your puppy started on becoming a therapy dog, you are going to need a good collar or harness to keep him under control as well as an appropriate leash for his weight and size. Your dog should know basic commands such as ‘sit’, ‘watch me’, ‘leave it’, ‘down’, ‘heel’, and ‘come’, as well as leash manners before beginning therapy training. Be prepared with lots of patience and have fun. Socializing your dog to new environments and you people will be your first step in any method you use, so be sure to have access to areas your dog may work once he is a therapy dog. And finally, be sure to carry around lots of little rewards for good behavior as you are training your dog.

The Empathy Method

Most Recommended
1 Vote
Empathy method for Become a Therapy Dog
Step
1
Teach love
Because therapy dogs are inherently empathetic, the first thing you need to teach your dog is to love anyone and everyone. To do this, you need to socialize your puppy from an early age. After his first vaccines are complete, get him out socially wherever you can take him and introduce him to the people of his world.
Step
2
Socialize
Take your dog places. Take your dog to pet stores so he can interact with people and other animals. Take your dog to dog parks so he understands his world around him as it relates to animals off leash. Take your dog to other retailers and restaurants that will allow dogs.
Step
3
Touching
From an early age, touch your dog as often as you can. Lift his ears, put your fingers in his ears and his mouth, wipe his eyes for him, clean his nose, rub his belly, and touch his paws. Allow other people to do the same. This will get your dog used to touching from strangers as he begins his therapy dog journey.
Step
4
Basic obedience training
Teach your dog basic obedience skills such as sit, stay, down, watch me, leave it, come, and heel, as well as basic leash manners.
Step
5
Introduce your dog to situations
Allow your dog to be around multiple people in a calm environment. Allow each person to treat your dog a little bit differently. One person may want to read to your dog. One person may want your dog to lay calmly next to them while they simply pet your pup. Another person may need your dog to snuggle. Be sure to introduce your dog to various situations so he is equipped for any emotional support he may need to provide.
Recommend training method?

The Citizenry Method

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Citizenry method for Become a Therapy Dog
Step
1
Basic commands
Before getting your dog out into the world, teach him basic commands such as ‘sit’, ‘stay’, ‘down’, ‘come’, ‘heel’, and leash manners.
Step
2
Jobs
Take your dog to various sites within your community and allow him to interact with the people who work there.
Step
3
Ask for involvement
As you are introducing your dog to various jobs within your community, ask the people who work at those places to become involved in therapy training for your dog. To do this, they need to ask your dog to do basic commands and reward your dog for being obedient. Have them spend time with your pup working and cuddling and being calm.
Step
4
Repeat
Continue to get your dog involved with strangers, but increase the situations where your dog will be working as a therapy dog. For instance, if you have taken your dog to your office to get used to people, you may want to begin to take your dog to a nursing home, which is more like the environment where he may be working.
Step
5
Community involvement
Ask community officials such as police officers, firefighters, schools, or your local City Hall to get involved in training your therapy dog. They can take your dog places where he will be exposed to people who need help, or you can leave your dog at their stations and office to help with their stressful work as well.
Recommend training method?

The Personal Therapy Method

Effective
0 Votes
Personal Therapy method for Become a Therapy Dog
Step
1
Start with empathy
If you are training a therapy dog to work within your own home with yourself or a family member, starting with a puppy or an older dog, teach your dog empathy first.
Step
2
Basic commands
Have the person within your family who would like the dog to be their therapy dog teach your dog basic commands. This will build the bond between those two, making their bond stronger than any other bond within your household. This may mean getting your child involved in training your dog rather than yourself.
Step
3
Conversation
Dogs want to please their owners. Sit with your dog quietly with some treats and read him a book or just talk to him calmly.
Step
4
Sleeping arrangements
Within your household, have your therapy dog in training sleep with the family member you are training your dog to help. Your dog does not have to be in the same bed, but ensure your dog understands this family member’s space is also your dog's space.
Step
5
Recognizing needs
As your family member goes through emotional turmoil or the highs and lows of whatever condition they battle, put your dog with them during those times. Over time, your dog will begin to recognize the signs and his personal owner’s needs.
Step
6
Practice and repeat
Continue to build a bond with your new therapy dog and his one particular owner within your family by increasing the time they spent together. Have that particular family member offer him meals and treats, give him training, and spend quality one-on-one time together. And when your family member is struggling emotionally, always have his dog by his side so your dog begins to understand this is his job and this is his person.
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Success Stories and Training Questions

Training Questions and Answers

Question
Duke
Shih Tzu/ Maltese
5 Years
0 found helpful
Question
0 found helpful
Duke
Shih Tzu/ Maltese
5 Years

My dog is uncomfortable around people in general, and rather scared of men. I realize that this is not the ideal temperament for a therapy dog, but my dog is extremely eager to please. So, I believe that if I asked people to offer my dog a treat, he would eventually warm up to people. Is this a good idea? Or is therapy dog training not right for my dog?

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainier
54 Dog owners recommended

Hello Ethel, Honestly there is no way to know for sure until you try. It is very unlikely that he will ever get to the point where he can be ready for the unexpected from people, which is an important therapy dog skill. Dogs who used to be afraid of people have been rehabilitated and gone on to become therapy dogs before though. I would highly encourage you to begin getting him used to people by having them feed him treats either way. He might surprise you and become a good candidate for therapy dog work with time and practice, but either way it will still help him to overcome his fear, which makes the training time worth it and will make him a pleasure to be around for people in general. Just go into the training with low expectations of him being able to become a therapy dog. Simply focus on enjoying the time and training with him, and pursuing the goal of him learning how to enjoy people more and be less anxious and stressed. If he responds well to that, then take the next step in the training, and go at it one step at a time. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Question
Bruno
Dachund crossed with a jack Russel miniature
2 Years
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Question
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Bruno
Dachund crossed with a jack Russel miniature
2 Years

My dog won't sit still for a second and won't listen I shout at him and do everything I can but he just want do it he can't do ANY tricks plz help me

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainier
54 Dog owners recommended

Hello Donna, does Bruno have something that he loves, like a really great treat or toy? To teach Bruno to sit, you need to first teach him what the word sit means. First go get an item that Bruno loves., then attach Bruno's leash to his collar to keep him from wandering off, but keep the leash loose. To keep your hands free you can place the leash handle on the floor and step on it or you can tie the leash handle onto something secure nearby. Show Bruno the wonderful treat or toy that you have, then put the item right in front of his nose and slowly move the item from his nose towards the back of his head, so that he has to look all the way up to keep his gaze on it. If he looks away or jumps up for the item bring the item back to the front of his nose and repeat the motion slowly. Do this until he lowers his bottom to the floor while looking up. As soon as his bottom moves towards the floor tell him "Sit", and when his bottom touches the floor praise him very enthusiastically and give him the treat or toy as a reward. You can make this easier by practicing this in a corner so that he cannot attempt to backup, but has to sit down in order to keep his eyes focused on the reward. This may take several tries before his bottom hits the floor, be patient, sooner or later he will sit down. You can also teach him to sit by telling him "sit" any time that he begins to sit on his own, and then praise him and reward him right when his bottom touches the floor. He will need to practice this often, somewhere without distractions at first. A good place is inside your home, in a calm room. Once he can sit reliably in a calm place, then you can begin to practice in slightly harder places, such as your own backyard, then in your neighborhood, then at parks, in pet stores, and everywhere else. The more you practice, the better he will be at doing it when you are somewhere with a lot of distractions later on. After you have done all of this, if you are certain that he knows the command really well, but is simply choosing to not obey because he would prefer to be doing something else, then to help him sit you can do the following: Attach a leash to his collar, command him to sit, then stand right in front of him, blocking his view. Now wait. Keep the leash tight enough that he cannot go around you but loose enough that it is not constricting his throat at all. If he tries to look or go around you, simply step in front of him and continue to wait. If more than fifteen second go by, you may repeat the sit command again, but do not continue to tell him to sit over and over. Eventually he will get bored and will likely sit. For some especially stubborn or distracted dogs this can take up to thirty minutes the first time. For most it only takes five minutes or less. Be patient. When he does finally sit, praise him enthusiastically and reward him, then allow him to stand back up, and then repeat the command again until he focuses on you or sits more quickly. Practice this often in everyday life to help him to learn to obey the command readily. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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