Therapy dogs are amazing animals who visit in nursing homes, hospitals, summer camps and programs for children with disabilities. Hailing from many different breeds, what all therapy dogs have in common is a gentle demeanor, good obedience skills and a genuine love for people that extends even to strangers. Therapy dogs are confident, friendly, affectionate, gentle and have no history of aggression.
Characteristics of Therapy Dogs
What makes a good therapy dog? A dog who loves to make new human friends, does not startle easily, and is very tolerant of petting and handling by strangers has good therapy dog potential. Not all therapy dogs are naturally calm and quiet. Younger and high energy dogs may need a good run or long walk before they are calmed down enough for therapy work.
Therapy ARC stands for Animals Reaching Clients. TherapyARC has provided pet therapy services to the Nashville community since 2001. The organization currently has pet-partner teams visiting regularly at over sixty facilities in Williamson, Davidson, Sumner, and Wilson Counties. Therapy ARC pet partners are certified by the Delta Society, newly renamed Pet Partners. TherapyARC has licensed evaluators on staff to help with Pet Partner certification testing.
Therapy Dog Initial Assessment
Before being accepted to a Pet Partner training class, each dog must pass an individual assessment by an experienced volunteer. You will bring your pet to a public place like a shopping mall, where the volunteer will interact with your dog and assess the skills your dog already possesses.
Group Training Class
Pet Partners has trained and certified therapy dogs for many years. The first step in training is to take a group class with your dog. This generally requires attending an evening class for 10 weeks. In the class, you will learn about rules and procedures for doing pet therapy. Most of the class, however, is dedicated to helping your dog build the skills he will need to pass the certification test. Participants have the opportunity to both observe and practice each step of the certification process. At the end of the course, an evaluation will be scheduled so the trainer can interact with you and your dog to assess your readiness for pet therapy work.
Part of the therapy dog class with TherapyARC includes a field trip to a local nursing home where you can experience a therapy dog visit firsthand. Mentoring consists of two consecutive Saturdays where you will visit with an experienced Pet Partner team to mentor you. The first visit you will observe your mentor and her dog interacting with residents. On the second visit, you and your dog will interact with residents while your mentor observes and provides feedback.
Pet Partners therapy certification consists of two different sets of exercises. The first half of the evaluation is called the Pet Partner Skills Test and includes basic obedience such as "sit", "stay", "come" and "leave it". The second half of the evaluation is the Pet Partners Aptitude Test. The goal of the PPAT is to observe how you and your dog handle scenarios that are likely to occur in the therapy experience such as loud noises, clumsy petting, and being approached by multiple people at the same time. See the attached list for a detailed description of each exercise in the evaluation.
Small Dogs and Cats
Cats and small dogs go through a similar training and certification process. See the next article for details on how the process is different when training smaller animals for pet therapy.