the following is reprinted with permission from Patch O’ Pits Therapy Dogs
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What Makes a Therapy Dog???
By Therese, Patch O’ Pits ©
(Mama to American Pit Bull Terriers who are certified therapy dogs: Apache, Patcheeno, Steel, Bodacious and Touche’, and my newest girlie Patchronus Charm )
* I get asked a lot, “What makes a good therapy dog, and how do you know your dog is right for it?”
Therapy dogs help to meet the needs of others in a variety of ways. When given permission by a facility, they can visit places such as, but not limited too: hospitals, libraries, schools nursing homes, rehabilitation facilities, community groups, scouting troops etc. They are not the same as a guide dog or service dog.
Any breed or mix with the correct temperament which I refer to as being “rock solid”, that has good working ability/work ethic, the desire to please people, exudes confidence, has no fear issues, doesn’t startle easily, adapts well and very quickly to change and strange new situations, and is ready and willing and able to give out a lot of unconditional l♥ve, “may” have the potential to be a therapy dog. Therapy dogs are not all cookie cutter dogs so to speak. They not only come in different sizes and shapes, but also have different personalities, energy levels, skills, limits and abilities.
Just like every dog is not cut out for therapy work; every owner isn’t always going to be an effective handler.
The work the handler puts in will dictate if they will be a successful team no matter how perfect the dog may seem for the job. The therapy dog & handler must work as a team. The handler must really know their dog, its comfort levels and overall abilities.
All dogs can be trained, but not all dogs are actually meant to do everything they are trained for or are good at the things they are being trained to do… A lot of what makes a true working dog excel at its job are part of the individual dog’s innate abilities such as: instinct, desire to please, working drive for the particular job/s and overall temperament. Those things can be enhanced through… training, but can’t be trained into a dog so to speak. That is why I always say, “Therapy Dogs are born not made training just brings them to their full potential & focuses their abilities…”
Learn what your dog is good at and focus on it. That makes for a happy dog and owner.
Don’t force things just because it is something you want to do… You and your dog need to be a team.
Things on the therapy tests are structure and expected, where as, real working environments are not. Thus, being able to pass the test and being able to do the work are not always one in the same. This is why exposing the dog; to a huge variety of sounds, sites, people, smells, objects, equipment and sounds is so important during socialization and training which consequently, are the first steps towards doing therapy work. A CGC test can also help you get ready. However, a CGC is not the same as having a therapy dog certification nor a true indicator that they will make a good therapy dog. This helps to better prepare them for the things they may encounter while working.
Something else to consider, though most organizations allow dogs to be tested at a year old, not all are mature enough or ready at that point to work. You do not want to rush or force a dog into something they are not mentally ready to do. That is just something else to consider.
A few you may want to look into are Bright and beautiful Therapy Dogs, Therapy Dogs International and Delta Society.
The therapy dog/handler bond and experience is one that can’t quite be put into words…
It is something you have to experience first hand to truly understand.
When working towards getting a dog certified it is helpful to get a mentor if possible or join a group where you can ask questions and or take some classes. Taking classes isn’t just for those who are inexperienced handlers, it helps with the socialization aspect too, and none of us no matter what are experience level know it all. Even after a dog becomes a therapy dog, the handler should not become complacent with training. This helps to keep the dog’s skills fresh.
Stop by my page to ask questions and read more about therapy work and American Pit Bull Terriers.
This is a picture of Bodacious getting ready for therapy dog visits. She is a second generation therapy dog who absolutely LOVES her job!
~ Patch O’ Pits Therapy Dogs