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

ribbon-method-1
Most Recommended
8 Votes
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 Remain Calm Method

ribbon-method-2
Effective
5 Votes
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?

The Sitting Politely Method

ribbon-method-3
Least Recommended
3 Votes
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.
Recommend training method?

Success Stories and Training Questions

Training Questions and Answers

Question
BOS
Chihuahua
2 Years
1 found helpful
Question
1 found helpful
BOS
Chihuahua
2 Years

Prepare a dog to visit nursing homes

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
1013 Dog owners recommended

Hello Dee, Check out the information on this website for an understanding of the types of skills pup will need to pass their therapy dog certification - which is required by most nursing homes, hospitals, and schools for public visitations. https://www.tdi-dog.org/HowToJoin.aspx?Page=New+TDI+Test If you have never trained a therapy dog before I would join a canine good citizen class with pup to gain some initial manners and training. I would then find a class that's training to prepare for either the Therapy Dog International (TDI) test or the Alliance of Therapy Dogs test. Sometimes that class instructor is also a certified tester who will test the dogs and handlers at the end of the class weeks. If not, you can look on TDI-dog.org or therapydogs.com websites to find a tester near you and test dates. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Corky
Beagle
10 Years
0 found helpful
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0 found helpful
Corky
Beagle
10 Years

He’s a rescue dog from a farmer that never trained him and had very little human interaction. I’ve taught him to sit and come, but we are having issues with lay down and stay. He also has no clue how to play, which is pretty important for dogs from what I’ve read.

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
1013 Dog owners recommended

Hello Jordan, Check out the article I have linked below on Down and Stay. https://www.thelabradorsite.com/train-your-labrador-to-lie-down-and-stay/ If pup still won't lie down, you can also wait until pup lies down on their own, then say Down and reward. This method takes longer but might be easier for an older dog. Capture method: https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-german-shepherd-to-lay-down There are additional things you can try also. Without knowing what you have already tried and how you are doing it, I am not able to give more specific advice, but I would try those methods I included first, if you have not already. If you are luring pup into the down position with a treat, often the treat needs to be lowered much slower, so that pup continues sniffing it as you lower it down. Once the treat touches the floor, if pup hops up then, you can gently hold a hand over their lower back while moving the treat with your other hand, to keep them from getting up. You will then move the treat away from them slowly to get them to lie down to follow it. Most dogs do best if you move it away from them along the floor, but some dogs do better if you move the treat toward them, under their chest, so you can try that as well. Going slow is often the key though and using really smelly treats pup likes to sniff and lick to keep them interested as you move it. For stay, set the goal very small at first. Put your hand out like a stop sign, then take just one step away and one step back, then reward. You are looking for pup to stay for just seconds at first. As you practice and pup starts to realize that staying gets them a reward, then you can stay stepped away from a few more seconds. Keep the goal short at first, rewarding brief stays, then add on seconds, until you have worked up to minutes, then starting adding minutes. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Nahbi
Border Collie
5 Years
0 found helpful
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0 found helpful
Nahbi
Border Collie
5 Years

Is this possible

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
1013 Dog owners recommended

Hello Bob, A lot depends on the amount of training and socialization and natural disposition your dog already has. Even though your dog isn't a puppy any more, if they are patient, well socialized, adaptable, like people, calm, and you are willing to train the specific commands pup will need, even an older dog can learn. A canine good citizen class is a good place to start. There are also sometimes classes specific for therapy work certification preparation you can attend with pup. Joining a local group in your area that is already doing therapy work would be something I would recommend looking into in your area. Best of luck training, Caitlni Crittenden

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Odin
Rhodesian Ridgeback
3 Weeks
0 found helpful
Question
0 found helpful
Odin
Rhodesian Ridgeback
3 Weeks

I know no training can begin with my puppy being so young, but I want to ensure that he can become a Therapy dog due to the fact that I am an Activities Director at a nursing home and would love to bring him to work with me a few times a week. What are things that I should start doing as soon as I get him, and are there any classes that I should put him in to ensure his training? He is a Rhodesian Ridgeback and Husky Mix.

Alisha Smith
Alisha S., Dog Trainer
253 Dog owners recommended

Hello! How wonderful. You can begin with basic training classes. I know most trainers will start dogs at 8 weeks. You can also begin basic socializing skills.... handling your dog, massaging his ears, brushing his teeth, exposing him to loud sounds (and giving treats while doing so) and when his vaccine schedule allows, meeting humans and other dogs. There is a course called the Canine Good Citizen. Many therapy dogs go through this course. There is a directory on the American Kennel Club's website for CGC trainers in your area. I would tailor your training around that specifically and you will have no issues with your dog being well behaved in a nursing home when he is older.

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Scooter
Dockson
17 Months
0 found helpful
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Scooter
Dockson
17 Months

Would love to take him to nursing homes to visit the elder to brighten their dsy a little.

Alisha Smith
Alisha S., Dog Trainer
253 Dog owners recommended

Hello! This is such a wonderful thing to do. You will want to get started with what is called a Canine Good Citizen Certification. Usually that is required to visit nursing homes and hospitals. There is likely a trainer in your area that can help you with this. I have attached a link for you to do a search. https://www.akc.org/products-services/training-programs/canine-good-citizen/finding-classes-and-evaluators/

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