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Does your four-legged friend seem to have all the right qualities for a future therapy dog? Maybe you've already trained him to greet people and are wondering how he can apply his knack for comforting people to others. If you're ready to share your pet with the world, read on to learn how to register your dog as a therapy dog.
The Right Dog for the Job
Therapy dogs can be pups who are part of a service organization or household pets who have been trained to help strangers. They need to know how to interact with many different people in environments like hospitals, nursing homes, schools and community events.
Therapy dogs usually need to be invited to the location at which they are providing therapy services, which means that they need to know how to stay focused and on their best behavior. Most programs require your pup to meet basic requirements, such as:
- Knowing commands like "sit," "stay," "down," "come" and "leave it"
- Greeting strangers (both human and animal) in a friendly way
- Reacting calmly to loud noises or sudden unexpected actions (This is critical for therapy animals who work with small children who may squeal or grab.)
- Being older than 1 year and having lived with you for more than six months
Each therapy organization has its own rules. Pet Partners, for example, requires that dogs be up to date on their rabies vaccination and wear certain kinds of leashes and harnesses. A therapy program may not require it, but your dog should also be a fan of car trips if the two of you are going to be traveling to service opportunities.
Before You Decide to Certify
Once you determine that you and your dog might be the perfect match for a therapy dog team, there are a few things to keep in mind before you embark on official certification. Therapy Dogs International (TDI) requires dogs to have been seen by a veterinarian within the last year, be current on all vaccines and have a negative heart worm test result. TDI may have additional registration requirements for how to register your dog as a therapy dog based on where you live. In addition to TDI, there are many other national and local therapy certification programs. Be sure to gather plenty of information before you decide which certification path you will take.
Some local programs require participation in certification classes, while others will allow a dog and handler to come to be tested and certified on the spot. If your dog is younger than 1 year old, you may need to follow a completely different process and approach to register your puppy as a therapy dog.
When you're learning how to register your dog as a therapy dog, it helps to make a list of questions to ask potential organizations.
- How far will I have to travel to do therapy dog visits?
- What kind of time commitment should I expect as a therapy dog team member?
- Can I travel with more than one therapy dog?
- Can dogs be trained as a pair of therapy dogs?
- If my dog doesn't pass the certification test the first time, how many retakes is he allowed?
Why Register a Dog as a Therapy Dog?
The American Kennel Club (AKC) encourages pet parents to seek therapy dog certification for the right reasons. Do you already volunteer with a cause you believe in? Maybe your dog can help you work with elderly neighbors, special needs children or people serving time in prison.
The more hours you and your dog are willing to commit to therapy volunteer work, the additional certifications you can receive through the AKC. The AKC website has a search feature to find programs in your area that offer various types of therapy dog registrations and certifications. Before signing on with a program, you should:
- Do your research and pick a program that you feel fits your dog's best qualities.
- Ask questions to make sure your dog would be a good fit.
- Consider shadowing a current dog therapy team to learn about the experience first-hand.
- Don't just go by what you read online — call and get details.
- Don't assume your dog needs to be a certain breed. Breed alone doesn't determine if a dog has a good temperament for therapy work.
Helping your dog become certified as a therapy dog can be a rewarding experience for you, him and the people you meet along the way. Knowing the right questions to ask and picking the right certification program can lead you on a path to a heartwarming experience.
Chrissie Klinger is a pet parent that enjoys sharing her home with her furkids, two of her own children and her husband. Chrissie enjoys spending time with all her family members when she is not teaching, writing or blogging. She strives to write articles that help pet owners live a more active and meaningful life with their pets.