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PET THERAPY – GETTING STARTED

Interested in doing pet therapy work with your dog?   Involvement with any aspect of pet therapy work can be very rewarding for you and your dog, but becoming a successful team does take planning and some training.  To get started, review the registration requirements for pet therapy organizations that are active in your area.  (A listing of some of the most popular websites can be found at the end of this article.)  To be a part of the NCNE team, you and your dog must be registered with an agency that provides evaluation and registration of your dog and insurance coverage for your pet therapy visits.  

Most Newfs are well-suited for pet therapy work, but every dog’s personality is different.  A good candidate for pet therapy work should:

  • enjoy interacting with all types of people
  • be healthy
  • have reliable basic obedience skills
  • be comfortable being around other dogs
  • calmly accept attention from strangers
  • be familiar with a variety of environments
  • be unconcerned by clumsy petting and being touched and handled  
  • be capable of handling noise and chaotic situations
  • and, most importantly, look to you for guidance and support.

The human partner has to do their share of the work as well.  A good handler is:

  • able to understand their dog’s body language, particularly when they are stressed or anxious
  • able interact positively with their dog with praise, encouragement, and reassurance
  • able to cue or redirect behaviors
  • able to interact with the people you visit while remaining focused on your dog
  • professional and abides by the practices and policies of their registering agency
  • and, most importantly, an advocate for their dog’s well-being at all times.

Of course, no team is perfect; we all have our strong and weak points.  What’s important is for you to know your dog’s weakness and dislikes and make smart choices in the types of visits that you do.  

Begin preparing your dog for therapy work by socializing in as many different locations as possible.  Even a quick 5 minute walk around a strange area can be useful.  As your dog becomes comfortable in different locations, slowly add additional stimulus such as being near a noisy playground or outdoor concert.  If your dog is not comfortable, stop and take a step back.  Keep working your dog in a less stressful environment and gradually build confidence before taking on more difficult locations.

Check your local training center or obedience club for classes designed to prepare you for pet therapy work.  If no such class is available, consider taking a family dog or cross-training class.  Let the instructor know your interest in pet therapy and the types of behaviors you will need for the evaluation.   

If you have any questions, contact me at: newfdance@hotmail.com.  HAPPY TRAINING!

PET THERAPY LINKS:

Pet Partners: https://petpartners.org/     (formerly Delta Society)

Intermountain Therapy Animals: http://www.therapyanimals.org/Home.html

Therapy Dogs International: http://tdi-dog.org/

Submitted by Laurel Rabschutz, PhD