Have you visited an older friend or relative and walked in to find them holding or petting a dog? It was most likely a therapy dog. These dogs are not trained to perform a specific task like a seeing-eye dog but are instead used to provide companionship and comfort to older adults, individuals with disabilities, or even sick children. Therapy dogs can bring a smile to a sick child’s face, helping them momentarily forget their pain. Therapy dog training teaches the animal to be comfortable around wheelchairs, canes, and crutches. These dogs also get comfortable with strangers and respond well when someone talks to them or pets them.
Along with the dog, a therapy dog handler must also receive training. The handler must know when it is safe to allow someone to interact with their dog. They provide guidance to the dog and command it to sit or lay down when necessary.
There are some dog breeds which are better suited for therapy dog training. Breeds which are calm, friendly and gentle make the best therapy dogs. Golden retrievers, Australian Cattle Dogs, and Labradors are good examples of great therapy dog breeds.
Therapy dogs are trained to provide companionship, affection, and comfort to individuals in mental institutions, medical facilities, retirement homes, and long-term care facilities. The idea of a therapy dog was first introduced in the 1970s in England. The first American therapy dog training program was started by Elaine Smith and the benefits of using therapy dogs were quickly recognized and accepted by medical professionals and those who work with special-needs communities.
The therapy dog’s primary purpose is to provide physical contact. This means the dog must not show any aggression or fear when approaching or approached by strangers. The dog must also be comfortable around different types of equipment, especially wheelchairs and medical beds. Another challenge for therapy dogs is children. Children tend to run up to a dog and want to pet or hug it. If the dog is not trained appropriately, it can respond with aggression or fear.
Most therapy dogs love to be petted and hugged and are eager to meet new people. They are extremely affectionate, yet can remain calm and composed no matter what is happening around them. All therapy dogs will already be obedience trained and easily handled on a leash.
During formal training to be a therapy dog, the handler and the dog will visit several different types of locations and facilities. The trainers will be watching the dog for any sign of aggression or unsocial behavior. This is important since most of the people who come in contact with the therapy dog will be sick, frail, or unable to handle an aggressive animal.
Anyone who owns and handles a therapy dog will find it to be very rewarding. Not only does the dog benefit from the training, but the handler also helps improve the quality of life for those who are sick, lonely, infirm or older. Dogs are great and therapy dog training makes them even better.