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What's involved with therapy dog training?


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I'm new to the board and have been enjoying your posts. I have a question that I'll bet you have the answer to. I am curious about how a dog and owner earns the right to the title of "therapy dog".

I have a wonderfully personable Saint whose hobby is visiting my school, but lately I have been thinking of actually getting some training for Ben and myself so we could take a more active role in our community. People respond so well to him and he enjoys visits and riding in the car.

What are the resonsibilities, liabilities, and requirements of training your dog for service to nursing homes, hospitals, etc.? Any information you could give me would be appreciated. :)

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Guest Anonymous

Your dog first has to have his or her CGC (Canine Good Citizen). Then most groups require your dog meet their requirements and pass a small test. Here is one link.


Delta Society also does Therapy Dogs. :wink:

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I took my Lab through Delta Society's program. He went through the training and had to pass a test which is basically the same as the CGC test. Unfortunately, I had to "retire" him shortly after he finished his training because of his hip problems (though he could probably start back up again now except I've just been lazy errr busy).

Anyway, from my perspective, if I had it to do over again, I would go with CGC. For the money I dumped into Delta Society, I really felt let down. I don't think it's the organization as a whole (then again...), but rather our local chapter of it. I wasn't happy with the training (I felt the trainer was far too heavy handed with my dog), so I trained him primarily at home, but still had to pay out the fees for the training and testing. One plus with Delta Society is that once you join up and get the certification, they offer you insurance to go on visits. Basically (if I understand it right), if little Granny Goofunkle trips over your dog (or her grandkids, interested in a frivolous lawsuit think so) and decides to sue, Delta Society's insurance covers it. At least, that's the way it was explained to me.

Anyway, I wish I had just checked into AKC's Canine Good Citizenship thing. Just find out what is required for the test, work on that (you can do it at home, or find a trainer if you're more comfortable) and then have a CGC certified tester give the test. I think it's much more practical and seems to be more widely recognized. It's pretty much just basic obedience. I think Delta Society has a few more requirements. I remember we had to put our dogs on elevators and see how they acted, fake really loud stomping screaming arguments around them to see how they reacted, make LOUD noises, there was a "meet and greet" where two handlers with dogs would stop and interact and the dogs were absolutely not allowed to acknowledge each other, plus the "busy crowd" scene where several people bustle all around the dogs, bumping into them and nudging them around. All this is in addition to the basic obedience. I don't know that CGC requires all this.

Anyway, there are pros and cons to either and I'm sure plenty of other organizations that I'm not familiar with, but when I take my Standard Poodle through this time, I'm going to go with CGC.

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The dog has to have an extremely stable temperment, and be thoroughly well trained (not that Ben doesn't/isn't :wink: ). I've heard that at the tests, they sometimes really put a lot of pressure on the dogs to make sure they can handle anything that might come up... they have to be "accepting" of all the strange equipment (crutches,wheelchairs, machines, etc), be able to have loud noises/fast movement around them (what if a person falls a few feet away, or they accidentally knock something down beside the dog and it makes a loud noise... will the dog dart across the bed, knocking things over as they go?), and be very tolerant of people who may not know how to or be able to handle a dog the way dogs are normally handled (ie: they may talk a little loud or "strangely", or "pet" a little too hard, etc). Another place to check out for temperment assessment (a little more in depth than the CGC, although I don't know if therapy groups take it into consideration) is the American Temperment Test Society ([url]atts.org[/url]). I hope this has helped a little, and good luck to you and Ben :wink:

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Duh... silly me. I forgot one major point I was going to make. I have taken a couple of my other dogs along on many nursing home visits. They have had no formal training other than the basic obedience I've given them and they were welcomed with open arms into these nursing homes. As long as they are well mannered and clean, I've found that most of the nursing homes around here welcome them.

However, our hospital does not let dogs in, certified or not (service dogs being the exception).

If you do it on your own, just be aware that if anything goes wrong, it will be YOUR responsibility and I read somewhere that nursing home lawsuits are a major thing these days. One very important thing is to make sure your dog's nails are filed or ground smooth. The skin on some of these folks is extremely fragile and they have that geeky thin blood and all it would take is a dog pawing to "shake" (a big no no) and you could have big problems. Make sure your dog is not a "shaker" and keeps all four on the floor at all times.

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Wow! Ben is very calm, but you've raised a lot of practical issues to think about. I do know that he will let anybody and everybody hang all over him. Just before Christmas we went to our district's outdoor education center with my students plus about 120 more he had never met before. The group (about 16) that went on the hike and walked him through the snow were typical 5th graders; not the quietest bunch on the planet. He had 2 hanging on his collar, and two 2 holding his lead! And the rest were all clumped around him. What a guy, he was a real good boy.

The issue you gave me pause to think about was being around strange equipment, very loud noises, etc. He's real calm when he's walking, but I would want to make sure he could handle things in real close quarters because of his SIZE. Thanks for your comments and the link. :lol:

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