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5 Signs Your Dog Makes a Good Therapy Dog


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Did you know that petting a dog can decrease stress, blood pressure, and pain levels? Petting animals can also comfort those who have lost a loved one or are battling a terminal illness. These are just a few roles that therapy dogs fill to spread love and encouragement to those who need it most.

If your dog enjoys cheering people up when they’re down, you may have considered enrolling your dog in a therapy dog training program. But even the sweetest and most intelligent dogs aren’t always cut out for the job. Therapy dogs need a very specific demeanor and skillset since they often interact with children and people who are sick.

Read on to learn when to start therapy work training, signs your dog would make a good therapy dog, and how to know if therapy work is right for your pet.

golden retriever dog standing next to person lying in hospital bed

What is a therapy dog?

There are some misconceptions about what a therapy dog is. First and foremost, therapy dogs are not considered service animals or emotional support animals (ESAs). Unlike service animals, they aren’t offered the same legal protections under ADA legislation, nor are they allowed in non-pet-friendly businesses.

However, there are similarities between them. Like service animals and ESAs, therapy dogs offer emotional support to humans and serve a vital role in society. Therapy animals can help boost the morale of natural disaster victims, people in hospitals and nursing homes, and those dealing with personal trauma. Plus, these dogs can bring comfort to those who aren’t eligible for an ESA of their own.

There are many benefits of having a therapy dog as a pet, too — they make great companions and offer the same emotional support to their own parents as they do to the people they work with. 

There are four main types of therapy dogs, and each undergoes special training that's specific to their task:

Therapeutic visitation dogs may be brought in by social workers to offer support to people or children who have been removed from the home for medical or legal reasons.

Facility therapy dogs undergo training to learn how to provide emotional support to people accessing in-patient facilities like assisted living homes, mental health institutions, and hospitals. 

Animal-assisted therapy dogs help those undergoing physical and occupational therapy. 

Disaster relief dogs work specifically with the victims of large-scale tragedies like tornadoes and hurricanes to cheer them up and relieve stress. 

What is the best age to start training a therapy dog?

Most therapy dog organizations won’t accept dogs under the age of 12 months. However, most trainers suggest parents start working on obedience and other work skills from day one.

Start with the basics: teaching your puppy not to jump up, play nip, or potty inside, then work on commands such as sit, stay, and lay down. Practice commands with and without distractions since therapy dogs must follow directions and not react to external stimuli while working. Home training will give your dog an advantage once they begin their official training program when they reach one year old. 

The therapy dog training process is quite extensive, and dogs must receive certification through an official therapy organization before starting work. To receive certification, dogs must prove they behave reliably, follow commands, are current on vaccinations, and are healthy enough for therapy work.

person petting a golden retriever dog

Signs a dog will make a good therapy dog

Wondering if your dog has what it takes to become a therapy dog? Dogs with the following traits are typically good candidates for therapy work. 

They’re obedient even when faced with distractions

Since therapy dogs often work in noisy environments with people are constantly coming and going, candidates should have the ability to stay on task amid distractions. Therapy dogs will encounter loud noises, food, and other canines while working, and they must be able to ignore these things to do their job successfully.

Therapy dogs go through months or even years of training with distractions to diminish their reactions to external stimuli, so if your dog doesn't have it down yet, don't get discouraged!

They’re calm by nature

Therapy dogs should have a consistently calm demeanor in all types of situations and environments. It's essential that candidates don't become reactive if someone pets them too aggressively or accidentally hurts them — these things happen, especially with children. Likewise, therapy dog candidates shouldn't be overly excitable or easily startled since this could cause them to accidentally injure therapy patients.

They enjoy the company of all people regardless of their differences

Therapy dogs must be accepting of people of all regardless of age, sex, dress, or disabilities. If your dog is the type that loves everyone and never meets a stranger, they may do well as a therapy animal.  

They’re affectionate and like being touched

Fur-babies who enjoy being petted and doted on will adore the therapy dog job description. The primary role of a therapy dog is to lie or sit by the patient and be stroked and talked to — so if that’s your dog’s idea of a good time, they’ll love the job and will likely be good at it too!

They're trainable and eager to please

Dogs that are receptive to training and have an innate eagerness to please their parents are usually good candidates for therapy work. The ability to retain commands and training long-term is also essential for this job. If your dog is a quick learner, retains knowledge well, and loves to make their pet parents proud, a successful career in therapy work might be in their future.

Is your dog right for therapy work?

If your dog loves people, obeys commands despite distractions, and has an eagerness to please, therapy work might be your dog's calling.

But training and temperament aside, the most important characteristic of a therapy dog is that they enjoy what they do. A dog who doesn’t enjoy therapy work will not be good at it. Therapy work takes a lot of patience and training, and not all dogs are up for the challenge. Likewise, pet parents should be committed to continued training and have time to dedicate to therapy work. Therapy work is a very rewarding job, but it's also very time-consuming, and both the pet and parent should be ready for that commitment.

Thinking of training your fur-baby to become a therapy dog? Request a session with a dog trainer through Wag! to get started on the right paw!

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© 2024 Wag Labs, Inc. All rights reserved.