How to Train Your Dog to Visit Nursing Homes

Hard
2-4 Months
Work

Introduction

Think your dog has what it takes to be a therapy dog and become a popular visitor in your local nursing homes? Before this can happen, your dog has to meet certain training standards and be approved by the facility you plan to visit. Many nursing homes have very specific requirements that include registration and certification.

You may also need to have liability insurance issued by providers such as The Delta Society or Therapy Dogs International. At a minimum, most will require your dog to have passed the American Kennel Club's Canine Good Citizen (CGC) Test. There are some nursing homes and senior centers who do not require certification, only that your pup prove that he is well-behaved. Be sure to check with your local nursing homes to see what their requirements are before you take your pup in for a visit. 

Defining Tasks

If you are going to take your pup to visit the residents of your local nursing home, he must be very well-behaved. Of course, if you are planning to take your pup for visits, he must be very people-friendly and have a very laid-back demeanor. The main role of a therapy dog is to provide a range of support, affection, and comfort to those he visits with.  In order to be considered for the role of therapy dog for nursing homes, your dog must:

  • Like meeting new people
  • Have no history of nipping or biting
  • Be capable of following the basic commands, 'sit','stay', 'come', 'down'
  • Not be startled by new sounds, smells, and environments
  • Be capable of remaining calm and sitting still throughout the visit

Before getting started, you should be aware that training your dog to be a therapy dog can be a lot of work and take quite a bit of time. This is a job for your dog and as such, he should like doing this type of work. Dogs that are trained to herd or track may not be ideal, but those breeds who are known to be highly intelligent are much better suited. 

Getting Started

There are several behaviors your dog must learn before he is considered safe and ready to put a smile on the faces of the many elderly people he will visit. While you may not need much in the way of actual supplies for this training, you will need a few things:

  • The right dog: not all breeds or individual animals are best suited for this.
  • Treats: you always need plenty of treats to give out as rewards.
  • Various places to train: you need several environments to get your dog used to noise and people.
  • Patience: getting your dog ready to visit a nursing home is going to take plenty of time and patience

Getting your pup ready to work as a therapy dog is no easy task, even if your dog is good with people. He still needs to be trained to behave at all times and must be capable of following commands without question, no matter how many distractions there happen to be. 

The Get Used to Strangers Method

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1 Vote
Step
1
Grab those treats
Grab a bag of your dog's favorite treats.
Step
2
Meet the crowd
Your dog must learn to be comfortable around strangers, so you will need to take him places where there are lots of strangers, like the local dog park, the beach, and your local city park (if they allow dogs).
Step
3
Walkthrough
With your dog on a leash, start walking him through the crowds of people, letting him get used to the sights, sounds, smells, and the people in general. Take your time here and give him a few treats along the way.
Step
4
Let him start meeting people
As your pup starts to get used to people, let him start meeting them slowly by allowing people to hand him a treat and then pet him. Take all the time you can and repeat this process as frequently as possible until your pup starts walking up to people to say 'hi'. Make him sit while people are petting and fussing over him. Be sure to give him plenty of treats along the way.
Step
5
To the nursing home
Now it's time to introduce your pup to the nursing home environment. You need to do this slowly, giving him plenty of time to get used to the smells and noises before he is allowed to meet people.
Step
6
Meet and greet
Once he is used to the noises and no longer spooks, you can let him meet some of the guests. Do so slowly, starting out with no more than one or two residents at first. Your pup will soon come to love his nursing home visits where he gets fussed over by so many people. Be sure to give him lots of treats as he gets used to his new job.
Recommend training method?

The Sitting Politely Method

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Step
1
The right place
For this training, you need a place where you can gather up several people your dog is not familiar with. It can be your backyard with a number of your friends your pup hasn't met or a park full of people--anywhere your dog can be in a crowd.
Step
2
Go for a walk
Take your dog for a walk through the crowd, letting him get used to all the people, the noise they make, the smells, the sights... everything.
Step
3
The 'sit' command
At frequent intervals, give your dog the 'sit' command. When he obeys, give him a treat and have one of the strangers pet him and fuss over him.
Step
4
Move on
Continue walking through the crowd and letting your dog earn the right to be petted by strangers. You may even want to give the stranger a treat they can give your pup when he sits for them to pet.
Step
5
In the nursing home
It may be best to visit one or two guests at a time at first to give him time to get used to the new environment before you take him into common areas where there are more people. Have those treats handy and be sure your pup sits before the residents are allowed to pet him. They are sure to love seeing the two of you on a regular basis.
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The Remain Calm Method

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1 Vote
Step
1
Gather the tools
For this training, you will need several helpers and a range of items that can be used to create noisy distraction, such as metal rolling carts (you could substitute a shopping cart), maybe a person in a wheelchair, and several people your pup does not know.
Step
2
Create the environment
Now you need to create an environment for your pup where he is exposed to each of these individually at first and then in increasing amounts. This will allow him to slowly get used to being exposed to the distractions.
Step
3
Walkthrough
Walk your pup through the training grounds, giving him plenty of time to get used to them. Start out with a small course and as he gets used to it, add more distractions. You may need to do this for several weeks until he becomes inured to them.
Step
4
Add commands
Now that you can walk him through the "distraction obstacle course", it's time to start working on behavior. As you walk along with your assistants talking and generally carrying on, try giving your dog commands such as 'sit', 'come', and 'down'. Once he has reached the point at which he instantly obeys, you are ready to move on to the final step.
Step
5
In the nursing home
Start by taking your pup to the nursing home and letting him get used to the new environment and the many distractions. You may need to do this several times before he is ready to meet the residents.
Step
6
Introduce your pup
Finally, you can slowly start to introduce your pup to the residents. Let him slowly meet them, make him sit while they say hello and pet him. Have treats ready to reward him and be ready to give the 'down' command if he starts to get excited. You and your pup are sure to become the hit of your local nursing home.
Recommend training method?

Success Stories and Training Questions

Training Questions and Answers

Question
Ollie
French Bulldog
5 Years
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Question
0 found helpful
Ollie
French Bulldog
5 Years

We've adopted this rescue Frenchy, he loves people and is well behaved in all aspects of his new environment except he is very aggressive toward other dogs. Children and unknown humans are not an issue, but he turns into Kujo when he is with other dogs. He was raised with his mother and 2 chihuahuas. We would love to have him be a hospital visit dog as he has the relaxing effect on people. Your thoughts ?

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
112 Dog owners recommended

Hello Robert, Does he act aggressive when at a distance or does he also try to attack dogs when he actually meets them? If he is also aggressive when up close, has he ever drawn blood in a dog fight or does the fight just look scary but the other dog does not appear to be physically harmed afterwards? I ask because whether or not he would ever be able to be a therapy dog will largely depend on how dangerous he is around other dogs and whether or not the aggression can be treated. If he is only reacting aggressively towards other dogs when he sees them at a distance, but he is completely fine when he actually meets them, then he is likely leash reactive and not truly aggressive. Many dogs who act scary while on a leash but are fine during interactions have simply learned to act that way because of frustration or because of fear. In the case of fear, the dog is usually trying to keep the other dog away by acting scary. This type of fear can be treated by socializing the dog in a very positive way around other dogs, so long as your dog has never injured another dog. If it is reactivity, then I would hire a trainer in your area who has had lots of success in dealing with reactive and aggressive dogs to help you with the issue . You may be able to resolve this type of issue and move onto therapy work, but the issue will need to be solved in order to pass a Canine Good Citizenship or Therapy Dog certification test, often a precursor to being accepted into hospitals. If you dog has drawn blood on another dog and is truly dangerous around other dogs, I would not expect for your dog to ever be able to pass as a Therapy Dog. Many of the tests required for therapy work do require for your dog to be calm around other dogs, and even if your hospital does not require certification for some reason, there is always a chance that you will encounter another Therapy Dog and an aggressive response from your dog could put patients in danger. If your dog is aggressive when he meets other dogs but has never actually injured another dog, then you will have to decide whether or not you want to pursue hiring a local trainer with experience in treating aggression to work with you and your dog. Some dogs' aggression can be treated or managed to the point where you would pass a Therapy Dog or Canine Good Citizen evaluation, but many never get to that level even with treatment. Most people with dog aggressive dogs can get to the level where they can take their dogs for a walk or be around well trained friends' dogs without an incident, but up-close, free interactions are never possible for many aggressive dogs. That still might be something worth pursuing for your own peace of mind though. Dealing with the aggression could reduce both your and Ollie's stress during dog interactions. My advice in this scenario would be to hire a local trainer for your own benefit and see how Ollie responds before pursing Therapy Dog work. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Question
Sugar
Chihuahua
11 Years
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Question
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Sugar
Chihuahua
11 Years

I have 2 former puppy mill mamas that were discovered among over 20 dogs when the breeder died unexpectedly in March. They are just now learning how to dog. They are 7 and 9 pounds and do no yet walk around much. I need to carry them or they do t really move. Very, very sweet girls with only 4 teeth (all Maddie’s).
They thrive getting attention.

Do you think they are good candidates?

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
112 Dog owners recommended

Hello Samantha, At this point in time they would likely not qualify. They would have to be able to walk on their own, not startle easily, be well trained, and fully house broken, which they might already be. With work it might be possible to get them to the point where they could be certified if they are very patient and friendly toward people, which it sounds like they are. A great place to start is a Canine Good Citizen class, since that class would be the first step toward learning all of the skills that they would need in order to pass a Therapy Dog evaluation. To find out what type of skills they would need in order to pass a Therapy Dog Evaluation in order to visit nursing homes check out this website: https://www.tdi-dog.org/HowToJoin.aspx?Page=New+TDI+Test Once you understand what is involved in the final testing it might be easier for you to determine whether or not you want to work toward that goal with them. Best of luck training, Caitlin Critttenden

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Question
Sophie
Mixed
7 Years
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Question
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Sophie
Mixed
7 Years

How do I get her certified to visit nursing homes?
She is gentle.
Loves people and all other dogs.
Hardly barks. (I live in a condo so this a big plus).
Doesn’t jump up on people.
Will sit, go down and stay on command with treats. Doesn’t heel well. Mostly comes when called.
I have visited with other dog I had and it is so rewarding for everyone.

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
112 Dog owners recommended

Hello Mary, It sounds like Sophie would probably make a wonderful Therapy Dog candidate. There are several different organizations that have their own Therapy Dog Testing. You will need to pass one of those tests to become certified and possibly have a tester observe Sophie at a hospital or nursing home a couple of times also. To do that you will need to find a tester near you who is conducting testing in your area. Most tests are pretty affordable. You can find a list of Therapy Dog Organizations that can certify Sophie on this website: https://www.akc.org/sports/title-recognition-program/therapy-dog-program/therapy-dog-organizations/ The first list on that website is a list of Organizations that she can test with. The second list on that website is a list or therapy dog groups and clubs. After becoming certified you may want to join one of those groups for support and encouragement in the Therapy Dog program. You can check them out and see if one near you looks like something you would like to join. You can also reach out to one near you with any questions. Of the organizations listed on that website, Therapy Dog International and Alliance of Therapy Dogs are both pretty well known and accepted, especially Therapy Dog International. You can join Alliance of Therapy Dogs as a member and buy liability insurance through them if you wish to get insurance. Both of their websites also have a page for upcoming tests and testing locations. The direct links to those pages are: Therapy Dog International https://www.tdi-dog.org/HowToJoinUpcomingTests.aspx Alliance of Therapy Dogs https://atdmemberportal.com/Public/FindATO.aspx Many of the Therapy Dog Certification organizations require you to do a certain amount of visits to a hospital or similar location while under the observation of the tester, in addition to the one-on-one testing beforehand, in order to certify you. Three visits to a hospital under supervision is common. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Barklee
Labradoodle
4 Years
0 found helpful
Question
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Barklee
Labradoodle
4 Years

Do I need a certificate to bring him

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
112 Dog owners recommended

Hello Deanna, That will depend on the specific nursing home. In general most nursing homes and hospitals require your dog to be Therapy Dog Certified. There are several different organizations that offer tests for this, and classes if you need them. Therapy Dog International and Alliance of Therapy Dogs are two of the more well known ones, but there are several different groups to get certified through. Contact the nursing home that you would like to bring him to and ask if they require therapy dog certification for a well behaved dog and if so if there is a specific organization they want the dog to be tested through. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Chino
Shih Tzu
3 Years
0 found helpful
Question
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Chino
Shih Tzu
3 Years

My Chino loves people, especially elderly people. He loves kids too, but getannoyed at there roughhandle sometimes. He follows some commands sit, come, hes no good with stay ...cause he likes to follow me all around the house. can you reccommend a trainer.

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
112 Dog owners recommended

Hello Marsha, Since I do not know where you are located and you may not be close enough for me to know someone personally in your area, I cannot make a recommendation without more information. I am personally based out of Atlanta GA and own my training company there, Life Dog Training. What I can tell you, is to look for someone who has Canine Good Citizen and therapy dog training experience. Ask a lot of questions and check out reviews online and from those you know by asking friends. You want someone who will work on getting him more used to being touched and handled using treats, and someone who will help you with socializing him with kids and doing hands on practice with kids. That person should also be able to evaluate whether he might be a good candidate for Therapy Dog work. When he gets annoyed with kids' handling, does he ever nip or get rough? Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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