How to Train Your Dog to Visit Hospitals

Medium
6-9 Months
Work

Introduction

Your dog is an angel in a fur coat and everyone who meets him can't help but smile. You've read about the benefits to elderly patients in the hospital that are visited by dogs. Apparently, our fur-friends have the ability to lower blood pressure and speed up recovery times, plus it just plain makes people feel good. With your dog being such a sweetheart, you feel it's truly his calling to become a hospital therapy dog.

Defining Tasks

A dog that visits hospitals is expected to be a paragon amongst dogs. Not only must his behavior be impeccable at all times, but he must be bombproof should something unexpected happen, and accept being fussed by strangers without getting anxious or upset. 

This means the dog must be well-socialized from a young age and have a good level of basic obedience training. Indeed, dogs are expected as a minimum requirement to meet the Kennel Club's "good canine citizen" requirements.  Thus the dog should be well-mannered, calm in all situations, and obedient to the owner. 

In addition, the dog must be in good health, vaccinated, and clean. 

Getting Started

Given the requirement for the dog to be rock steady in a range of situations, most hospital therapy dogs are adults in their middle or mature years, who have matured and got over puppyish high spirits. To train the dog to an adequate standard of obedience you will need: 

  • Treats
  • A good knowledge of reward-based training methods
  • Time and patience
  • A dog that has been well-socialized since a young age
  • A collar and leash
  • The dog has passed the good citizen test and assessment by an independent observer. 

The Acclimatization Method

Most Recommended
3 Votes
Step
1
Understand the idea
The dog needs to be bombproof in a range of circumstances he may encounter in the hospital. This ranges from being petted by strangers to being exposed to loud noises or shouting. It's helpful to think through the sorts of sights or sounds the dog will encounter and then practice meeting them in a familiar environment, so the dog becomes acclimatized.
Step
2
Crashes and clattering
A stainless steel kidney dish falling to the floor makes a loud noise, which would alarm most dogs. Practice at home, by having a friend make a variety of noises but some distance away. When the dog stays calm and doesn't react, reward him. Gradually bring the source of the noise closer, rewarding the dog each time he stays calm.
Step
3
Meeting strangers
The dog will meet many new people in a hospital and must greet them in a calm and accepting manner. To a certain extent, this training must start as a puppy. During the pup's socialization window (prior to 18 weeks of age) he should be gently exposed to a wide range of people, who reward his calmness with treats. Into adulthood, make sure he regularly meets people and enjoys their company by rewarding him with praise, fuss, or treats.
Step
4
Accept coughing or other human noises
In a hospital, the dog will encounter a range of human-generated noises from coughs and heavy breathing to shouting. Practice exposing the dog to this at home. Start at 'low volume' with a quiet cough and gradually increase the volume, rewarding the dog's calm behavior.
Step
5
Accept wheelchairs and strange equipment
The dog should be comfortable around wheelchairs and other mobility equipment. A staged introduction by walking the dog past a wheelchair at a distance and gradually moving closer is a good way to acclimate the dog.
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The Do's and Don'ts Method

Effective
2 Votes
Step
1
Do not force an anxious or fearful dog to participate
Be realistic about your dog's personality and character. A highly strung nervous dog or one that is bouncy and boisterous are not suitable as hospital visiting dogs.
Step
2
Make sure your dog is well socialized
Dogs that were socialized well from early puppyhood are most likely to make good therapy dogs. This is because they are self-confident and able to interact with strangers without fear and anxiety.
Step
3
Do not forget the health requirements
Dogs that visit hospitals have to meet certain hygiene standards and be up-to-date with preventative care such as vaccinations, deworming, and flea control. Failure to do this will result in exclusion from any therapy dog program.
Step
4
Get a professional to test the dog
Most institutions require the dog to be assessed by a specialist, prior to enrollment as a hospital dog. Most schemes are dependent on the dog passing this test in order to be enrolled.
Step
5
Don't force a dog into a situation outside their comfort zone
Never attempt to force a dog into a situation he's not comfortable with. A fearful dog is more likely to bite or snap, which cannot be tolerated in the hospital environment.
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The Obedient Dog Method

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1 Vote
Step
1
Understand the idea
Hospitals are responsible for the health and welfare of their patients. Only a well-behaved dog will be allowed on the premises because of the problems an out of control dog would pose. The dog is expected to be well-trained and respond promptly to basic commands so that he's under control at all times.
Step
2
'Sit' and 'stay'
These two basic commands allow you to control the dog and keep him in one spot. This is useful if the dog is about to move and get under someone's feet. Use a treat to lure the dog into a sitting position, and mark the action by saying "Sit". Extend the time the dog is expected to sit before a food treat is given. Mark this time with the word "Stay".
Step
3
'Come'
A strong recall allows you to bring the dog to your side, should he be approaching someone who doesn't like dogs. Practice by saying "Come" when the dog happens to be moving towards you, then reward the dog with a treat. He will learn that responding to "Come" earns a treat.
Step
4
Walking on a loose leash
Having the dog under control on a leash is important. Practice by walking the dog on a leash, but stop if he starts to pull. Wait until the leash goes slack before moving off again. The dog will learn that pulling gets him nowhere, while steady walking is rewarded by getting where he wants to go.
Step
5
Teach 'give' or 'leave it'
This is helpful in a hospital environment if the dog goes to pick up something he shouldn't. Practice by having the dog hold a toy he likes, then offer him a treat. As he drops the toy to take the treat, say "Give", and reward him. Practice makes perfect!
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Written by Pippa Elliott

Published: 11/16/2017, edited: 01/08/2021

Success Stories and Training Questions

Training Questions and Answers

Question
Jack
Husky
4 Months
0 found helpful
Question
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Jack
Husky
4 Months

He has classes right now but i want to train him to take him into hospitals but he loves to jump on people nd he pulls on the leash im trying to work on it but doesnt seem like its working much

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
916 Dog owners recommended

Hello Anna, Check out the Step toward method from the article linked below and recruit a lot of willing friends and family members to help you practice with him. Use the Leash method with strangers you can't instruct how to help. Jumping: https://wagwalking.com/training/train-australian-shepherds-to-not-jump For the pulling check out the video and article linked below: Heeling: Heel article - The turns method: https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-poodle-to-heel Heel Video - notice the body language and the way its done even if you use different tools: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OTiKVc4ZZWo Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Henny
Labrador/Basenji Mix
8 Years
0 found helpful
Question
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Henny
Labrador/Basenji Mix
8 Years

She barks loudly for about 5 minutes when people come into the house that she doesn't know. But doesn't bark at people outside. She only barks; never bites nor nips ever.

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
916 Dog owners recommended

Hello Hilart, I suggest working on desensitizing her to guests coming over and the things that signal that guests may be coming over soon. Check out the video linked below. Barking at the door and guests: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DxPrNnulp5s Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Question
Lexi
Catahoula mix
6 Years
0 found helpful
Question
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Lexi
Catahoula mix
6 Years

We rescued Lexi as a year-old, timid, constipated pupper from the shelter. Because she was a transfer, the people at the shelter did not know her background. She came to us with a scar around her neck and a tail between her legs. After a couple of months, we began to see the true dog in her: a friendly, happy dog with mild anxiety around things like fireworks, other dogs, thunder storms, strollers, balls, etc.
Still, with work we have learned to adjust to her needs. She does all of her basic commands easily and loves people of all ages. Our only problem is her behavior with other dogs. A couple of months after we got her, Lexi got loose and attacked a Bichon Frise walking by. We are fairly sure the other dog started the fight, because it bit her leg and she limped for several days, but nonetheless, there was aggression between the two. Since then, Lexi has shown to us that she does NOT like other dogs. Every time we go past one while on a walk, she does one of two things. If the dog is tied up or fenced in a yard, she will whine, bark, and growl, and her hair goes up. Because of work I've done with her, though, she stays pretty calm. Unless the dog is loose or on a walk too. In this case, she will lunge, bark, snarl, and do anything in her power to get to the other dog, even if it means hurting herself or getting choked on her collar. Once she even managed to get out of a harness built to stop escaping! (And yes, it was as tight as it was meant to be).

I only want Lexi to be calmer and happier on walks. I hate having to scan the streets or trails for other dogs, having to be on high alert constantly. It takes the fun out of walks. Besides, people always give us awful, judgmental looks. Lexi's not a frothing, raging dog. She just has a terrible fear of the pooches around her. I don't want to muzzle or use a bark collar for this reason.

Any help would be greatly appreciated!

Darlene Stott
Darlene Stott
Dog Trainer and Groomer
104 Dog owners recommended

Hello, I suggest you bring in a trainer to help you gain the last thing that you want and need for Lexi. Consult a few trainers to discuss the issues and to make sure that you work with someone who has the knowledge, but also the same philosophy as you. Doing so can help Lexi (and you) understand and learn how to work with the fears she has. Ask your vet for recommendations, or take a trip to the dog park and ask around there. Online is another place to look as well. In the meantime, work on Lexi's heeling skills. She will be busy focusing on what you are teaching her and be less reactive to what's around her (ideally). Try either the Turns Method or the Treat Lure Method: https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-poodle-to-heel. You may also find helpful videos here and perhaps the opportunity to consult a trainer online: https://robertcabral.com/. Good luck!

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Question
Shadow
Mix - Aussie
11 Years
0 found helpful
Question
0 found helpful
Shadow
Mix - Aussie
11 Years

My goal is to bring our Shadow into our local hospital. I believe Shadow may not be a perfect "fit" as any loud noise makes him cower. However, can I get training as I volunteer at a no kill shelter and I would love to be able to train a pet owner and their dog?

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
916 Dog owners recommended

Hello Ron, I recommend speaking with those in charge at your local shelters. A lot of the answer to your question will depend on the shelters near you and what they allow and offer. You might see if a friend has a dog who is a good candidate to practice with, even if that dog never become a therapy dog, so that you can have an outlet to practice the hands on part of the training. I would start by joining a therapy dog training group or club that you could practice with on your own to gain the initial skills. Once you have trained one dog, then you could contact your local shelters to see if they would let you work one-on-one with the dogs doing some of the foundation work of socialization, noise tolerance, and calmness (which would also be beneficial for pet ownership too, to help get the dogs adopted even if they never go onto therapy work). When you have successfully trained a few dogs in general, at that point I would pursue helping people with their dogs directly. The sequence of training a person and their dog often generally goes: Being a pet owner who learns how to train their own dog, and practicing things with their own dog. Practicing on some other dogs, where you are the one handling them. Teaching people how to train their dog, where you then have enough experience handling yourself that you can demonstrate and explain how to handle the dog, so they can handle their own dog under your guidance, so the dog will ultimately work for that person too, not just you. A local therapy dog club or training class would be a great resource to join or ask if you can shadow along the way if you can find someone who will allow it. This could serve as a mentor type relationship, which is another way trainers often learn. Plus, since you have an interest in training therapy dogs, you may find it really fun to be around it, learn from others, and share that with those who are passionate about it too. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Question
Lila
Labrador Retriever
3 Years
0 found helpful
Question
0 found helpful
Lila
Labrador Retriever
3 Years

Lila is very sweet and has a great temperament. I’d love to learn how she could be helpful to other people.

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
916 Dog owners recommended

Hello Imani, I would check with any schools, hospitals, nursing homes, or other places in your area you would like to visit with your dog. See if there is a specific therapy dog certification they require. There are numerous certification programs for Therapy Dogs, but some locations prefer a specific one due to more or less strict testing requirements. Once you know which certification(s) places in your area require/prefer, you can often look online for a therapy dog group, of other owners and their dogs who do visits to places, in your area to get connected with them and coordinate visits and learn from. To be a therapy dog, pup must pass a certification given by a qualified instructor. There are a variety of certifications and classes offered for that. The two websites I have listen below are the most widely recognized in the USA generally. On their websites you can also find information on testing in your area, and sometimes classes offered in your area to practice the required skill to pass the test if pup doesn't already have those skills, unless you prefer to practice those skills on your own to prepare. The Therapy Dogs International link I have included specifically takes you to the page where it mentions the testing requirements for skills pup will need to pass that test, so you will know what to practice. https://www.therapydogs.com/alliance-therapy-dogs/ https://www.tdi-dog.org/HowToJoin.aspx?Page=Testing+Requirements If you don't have a therapy dog specific class in your area to join and don't plan to train totally on your own, a canine good citizen class covers some of the same skills and can be a good place to start to gain at least part of the skills needed for the test and visits. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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