Creature Comfort: How to Make Your Dog a Therapy Dog

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Got yourself a well-mannered, friendly pup who brightens all your days and makes you feel better just by bein’ around? Has she been begging you to enroll in classes so she can take the next steps in her career as a certified therapy dog? What a good dog! Here’s everything you need to about how to become a therapy dog.

What kinds of dogs can be therapy dogs?

All kinds of dogs can be therapy dogs! Big ones, smol ones, floofy ones–you name it. What’s most important is that your dog is well-socialized and loves being around people. Your pup should also have basic obedience skills and know to listen to you whenever things get a little hectic. If you have a well-trained and patient dog who can roll with the punches, he might just be the perfect fit to join the ranks of these heroic healers.

How can my pup learn and get certified?

There are dozens of pawesome training programs where good boys and girls can learn how to spread all their love around to people who need it. A quick internet search will reveal tons of classes in your area. Some of the most common certification programs include Pet Partners and Therapy Dogs International. Therapy dog classes focus heavily on preparing for exams but also prepare you to be the very best handler you can be. In fact, your handling is a huge component of what makes an excellent, safe, and effective therapy team. As for the exam itself, requirements may vary by organization. Be sure to check in with the program you hope to volunteer with to see what they require.

Where can my dog volunteer?

A better question is where can’t your dog volunteer! Wherever people are going through a stressful or challenging experience, you can be sure a kind pup will make an impact. There are about a zillion places your pup can work her magic. Your dog can volunteer at airports helping worried travelers manage their anxiety, in schools when a significant event has impacted the community, in hospitals or nursing homes where people who aren’t feeling their best really need a friendly face–anywhere!

Pet Partners, the leading therapy animal organization in the U.S., has incredible and innovative programs that brings dogs to veterans, clients with Alzheimer’s, people working on their literacy, and much more.

What impact can a therapy dog have?

A therapy dog’s presence is always felt. Many folks who have the opportunity to work with a dog-handler team feel an instant burst of joy, but the benefits can also be deep and long-lasting. These benevolent pups can improve communication, reduce stress and anxiety, boost literacy rates, encourage mobility, and provide hope and happiness. “For many patients, pet therapy visits are simply a day-brightener,” explains Cortney Kostreba, Volunteer Specialist at Fairview Home Care and Hospice in Minneapolis. “Patients who formerly owned dogs especially love visits from a furry friend. Pet therapy can help decrease stress and anxiety, including that from PTSD,” she adds.

The impact of these positive puppers is so profound that it can even affect our brains. “Pet therapy can also be cognitively stimulating and assist patients in recalling memories,” Cortney says. “We especially notice this with our Alzheimer’s and dementia patients.”

Your dog’s company can provide so many incredible benefits to the people you serve.

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