Do you have a life to-do list (I don’t like the term bucket list, too depressing) for your dog? I have one for Hunter and Roscoe, although most of the items on the list are things that only Hunter will do since as a shy, fearful dog, I know Roscoe would not be comfortable doing some of these things. Hunter has always been an exceptionally friendly and easy-going dog, so I pretty much know he is down for any activity.
As you can see, we’ve completed quite a few of the things on our list, but we still have more to do (follow us on IG @dogsinthecle!) Last week we took a step towards completing item #7 on the list – Therapy Dog training! Hunter went to his first session this past week at Fortunate Fido to find out if he has what it takes to become a therapy dog and I am excited to learn more about it.
What is a Therapy Dog?
Just in case there is any confusion, since people have asked me when I’ve brought it up, a therapy dog is not a service dog. A therapy dog’s role is provide affection and comfort to various members of the public. Unlike service dogs which typically work with one individual who needs emotional and/or health-related assistance, service dogs don’t get any special access places (unless they are working there). Therapy dogs can work in many different places, such as hospitals, schools, nursing homes and libraries. In recent years therapy dogs have been used in crisis situations (visiting schools after mass shootings, for example) and even in airports as a way to relieve the stress of traveling.
As someone who works a standard 8-5 Monday through Friday work schedule, I was concerned that would be less opportunities for people who can only volunteer on weekends. The instructor assured me that many organizations need therapy dogs on Saturdays and Sundays and many nursing homes are flexible about when you can visit once you establish a relationship with them.
How does my dog become a therapy dog?
In order to become a therapy dog and work in various locations, you must register your dog with one of the national Therapy Dog organizations. Alliance of Therapy Dogs, PetPartners, Bright and Beautiful Therapy Dogs and Therapy Dog International, are just a few of the therapy dog organizations you can register your dog with so that he or she will be accepted into various programs at schools or other institutions. There are fees involved, since part of the reason you join one of these organizations is to get liability coverage in case something happens when your dog is at an assignment.
If you are interested in getting your dog registered with one of these places you will want to look into training for your dog since there is a handling test required for each organization. A few local Cleveland trainers do therapy dog training, including Fortunate Fido, Alpha Dog Pet Center, Total Canine and The Dog Class. Classes are often not regularly offered, so it’s a good idea to reach out a trainer near you to see if it’s something they are offering currently or could offer in the future.
The training will vary depending on which organization you plan to get certified with, some may require Canine Good Citizen certificate first, while others may not. The Fortunate Fido training is connected with Alliance of Therapy Dogs and does not require CGC certification first.
I am still learning more about registering with this organization and what training is involved, so I will share more details as I learn them. I am going into it more as a learning experience and deciding whether this is something that would be a good fit for Hunter, and for myself, since it will require a lot of time from me. But as a true believer in the power of dogs to reduce stress and improve your overall state of mind, I am really excited about the opportunity to spread joy though Hunter’s undying love of people!