How to Train a Golden Retriever to be a Therapy Dog

Medium
4-12 Months
Work

Introduction

There is a reason that the Ggolden Retriever is one of America's favorite dogs. With their gorgeous feathered coats ranging from blonde to bronze, their sweet expressions and happy good natures, they are hard to beat. For the same reasons that Goldens make an appealing family pet, they can be an appealing therapy dog. Goldens are often work-driven as well, since they were bred to be hunting retrievers, and are a favorite as service dogs. Your Golden Retriever can be an amazing therapy dog, bringing joy and comfort and aiding in the healing process for hospital patients.

Defining Tasks

Goldens are driven to please and most enjoy work, but they can also be very high energy. If your Golden is bouncing off the walls and can't seem to contain herself, you will need to expel her excess energy and teach her self-control before beginning training. Some dogs simply need more time to mature and get control of themselves before they can begin advanced training. Be realistic and patient with your dog, being careful not to over-extend your expectations.

Getting Started

Your Golden Retriever should have dependable basic obedience and have good leash manners before you begin therapy training. If your retriever doesn't understand concepts like "calm" and has not yet developed self-control, it is best to master these skills at the start of training. Your dog will benefit from having good exercise prior to therapy training. She should be relaxed, happy, and ready to learn. You don't want to wear her out to the point of being exhausted, but you do want her to have gotten the wiggles out. A good game of fetch or a run through a makeshift agility course are good ways to burn off some steam.

The Work Toy Method

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Step
1
Retrievers
Your Golden is a retriever, and if she expresses strong retrieval instincts, you can utilize that drive to focus and calm her at work.
Step
2
Work toy
Choose a toy that is comfortable for your Golden to carry for extended periods, that is soft but firm enough that she won't destroy it.
Step
3
Build respect for the toy
This toy should only be used in training, and your Golden should not have it at any other time. Use it to throw for fetch or play tug with it as a reward, but only for good behavior at work. At home it should not be used.
Step
4
Carry
Teach your retriever to carry the toy while she goes through training. This will remind her that she is working while she walks through distracting environments and interacts with people.
Step
5
Consistency
Have your Golden carry her toy through all sorts of public environments and inside spaces she can go like pet stores and home improvements stores. Some businesses will let you practice if you tell them you are training for therapy. Reward for good carrying and polite behavior with tug and fetch games.
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The Tied to You Method

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Step
1
Devoted
If your Golden is extremely devoted to you and your lifestyle allows her to go most places with you, you can keep her with you constantly to teach her how to behave.
Step
2
Reward for good behavior
Constantly have desirable things for your Golden on hand. Treats, tug toys, and fetch toys are all useful in training. You can even feed your dog her kibble throughout the day as rewards.
Step
3
Watch closely
Watch your Golden closely and reward her for all good behavior. If she calmly greets a stranger, reward or ask the stranger to reward her. Reward calm states of mind and instances of resisting impulse.
Step
4
Build trust
Begin going places with more temptation and distraction. Reward your Golden well for good behavior in these instances
Step
5
Work up to therapy
Keep working with your Golden until she is trustworthy in all public spaces. At this point you can go through therapy certification. Make sure you keep rewarding and training as you become accustomed to therapy work.
Recommend training method?

The Model Dog Method

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Step
1
Influencing state of mind
If you have access to a calm, well behaved therapy dog, your Golden can learn from her state of mind.
Step
2
Everything together
Go out together with both dogs. Reward for calm and desirable behavior. Make sure your Golden can see when you reward the other dog, and encourage her to mimic the other dog's behavior to get a reward.
Step
3
Increase distractions
Gradually increase the distractions in the environments you bring the dogs to until your Golden is comfortable in all sorts of situations, and understands how she should behave.
Step
4
Practice alone
Practice activities with your Golden alone, rewarding generously at first as your Golden gets the feel for self-control without another dog to influence her.
Step
5
Build up to therapy
As you build trust with your Golden, ask businesses to let you practice inside and get therapy certification.
Recommend training method?

Success Stories and Training Questions

Training Questions and Answers

Question
Lucy
Golden Retriever
4 Months
0 found helpful
Question
0 found helpful
Lucy
Golden Retriever
4 Months

At what age should I begin her training as a therapy dog?

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
115 Dog owners recommended

Hello Lynn, Right now. You can start as soon as a puppy's eyes open. Work on getting her used to being handled by practicing giving her a treat every time you touch an area of her body. Do this for a couple of minutes with every area of her body every day whenever you can. Also, expose her to as many new things, especially lots of different types of people, and make the experiences positive by giving her treats and praise during the interactions with new things. Most puppies start out friendly and will let you handle them while young, but if you do not practice it now many dogs will quickly loose those things as they age. Also, enroll her in a puppy class where she can practice playing with other puppies under the supervision of a trainer. You want to let the puppies have a chance to practice gentle mouthing and learn how to control the pressure of their mouths. When one puppy starts to seem overwhelmed or one puppy is getting too rough, then separate the puppies, work on something fun like Sit with treats for a minute, then let the puppy who wanted to stop go back to playing first to see if he still wants to play. If he does, then you can let the puppies resume playing. If he does not want to play anymore, then let that puppy have a longer break. Moderating the play this way prevents fear and bullying from happening, and instead let's the rough puppies learn when they are being too rough and let's the shy puppies have a chance to recover and want to play again. These are the most important things to work on for future therapy work at this age. Good control of a puppy's bite pressure makes him far safer as an adult. Socialization cannot be completely recovered most of the time as an adult, and is vital for therapy visits, and being comfortable with touch is essential for therapy work also. Bite-Inhibition and socialization can only be learned really well when a puppy is young. Those two things plus getting a puppy used to being touched, effect a puppy's future temperament more than anything else. You can also start obedience now. It is never too young for that. You will need to be patient because a puppy cannot focus for as long as an adult, but the obedience that you teach to a puppy will often stay with that puppy for the rest of his life because he never learns any bad habits in place of those things. Obedience can be taught to an older dog though, so socialization, bite-inhibition, and touch desensitization are the most important things to teach to prepare your pup now for therapy work later, if you do not have time to start obedience just yet also. Your goal should be for your puppy to be given treats from a hundred different people, including: kids, elderly, different skin colors, disabled people, toddlers, men, women, people wearing hats, glasses, beards, or with canes, wheelchairs, ects...Think of the possible people and things she will encounter later in schools, hospitals, nursing homes, or other locations and get her used to those things now with trips, treats, and praise. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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