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How Do I Certify My Dog As a Therapy Animal?

September 23, 2020

Dogs aren’t just pets anymore, they assist us with a number of things from detecting cancer to helping comfort those with PTSD. Petland has a long history of supporting therapy canines and supports Canine Companions for Independence and Heartland Canines for Veterans.

Perhaps you believe your pup has what it takes to shoulder such a job, and you may be right! Here’s a few tips to help you get started.

What Does a Therapy Dog Do?

There are actually three different classifications of therapy canines. They include…

Therapeutic Visitation Dogs: These animals are used in facilities where the residents are on an extended stay. This could be a nursing home, a Veterans Affairs hospital, or mental health facility that doesn’t allow pets.

Animal Assisted Therapy Dogs: These dogs often serve people who are already seeking psychiatric help or assistance due to a physical condition. They are usually required to perform a specific job for their handler.

Facility Therapy Dogs: These are typically considered to be “house dogs” and are used to help keep patients with degenerative brain diseases busy and productive.

Training & Observation

Therapy dogs are required to have a certain temperament, basic social skills are a must. In order for that to be possible, they should also be at an appropriate age. Before your pup can even take the test, they must be at least one year old.

Now comes the real challenge, preparing for the observation. About four to eight weeks prior to your dog’s test, you’ll want to work with them on basic commands. If your pup struggles with commands like sit, drop it, or stay, start with those first. 

When you feel confident, set an appointment with a certified Therapy Animal facility. When satisfied with your pet’s behavior, the individual performing the test will allow them to advance to the final step.

Field Testing

Once your pet has passed the initial observation, it’s time to move on to the big league. During this portion of the exam, your dog will actually perform the required commands in a real work setting in a series of visits. This means that you must remain in complete control of the situation at all times.

Your dog should not snap at strangers or become distracted by loud noises or quick motions. If they seem a bit overwhelmed during the first trial, don’t worry. Field tests are typically carried at least three to four times to give canines a fair shot at succeeding.

After all, no one wants to see your dog fail! Especially considering the good that they can do if they succeed. When the first visit concludes, be sure to take note of areas needing improvement. Remain patient and provide your dog with lots of positive reinforcement so that they can do better on the next round.

Keep in mind that therapy animals are not quite the same as emotional support animals. Anyone can go online and register their animal as an ESA, but therapy animals must prove it. Without the physical, in-person testing, there is no guarantee that the company you’ve signed up to certify your pet with is legitimate.

Be sure to do your research and check for consumer reviews!

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