Therapy Training

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Therapy Training

This is a discussion on Therapy Training within the Working Dogs forums, part of the Dog Shows and Performance category; I'm working on polishing Aspen's obedience now but long term, I'd like to make her a therapy dog. She is such a sweet girl and ...

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Old 06-08-2015, 08:39 AM
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Therapy Training

I'm working on polishing Aspen's obedience now but long term, I'd like to make her a therapy dog. She is such a sweet girl and really LOVES children. I thought she'd be a great candidate to bring to children's hospitals.

Does anyone know the best way to get started? I assume there are different laws depending on which state you're in but is there a national database?

Thanks in advance.
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Old 06-08-2015, 10:30 AM
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I'll reply more when I get home, but the best way to get started is to find a group in your area and ask about their requirements. My group does not require any sort of certification to participate.
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Old 06-08-2015, 11:07 AM
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I'd second the idea of looking into groups in your area. In my case, it was pretty much TDI (Therapy Dog International) or nothing at the time, though I believe Pet Partners is working on getting a group going in this area now.

In terms of evaluating which group you'd like certification from, I'd look at a few things. First, if AKC therapy dog titles are important to you, make sure the group is one that the AKC recognizes as one from which it will take visits toward titles (I think there are something like five groups the AKC has approved--you can check the AKC website to see which ones they are). Second, ask about what kind of training is necessary to test for certification and whether the chapter/group in your area offers pre-test courses. The test requirements should be on each organization's website, but whether the local chapter/group has pre-test classes and how often they offer them and the tests may vary from area to area. Third, check to see if the group in question focuses more on one group than another--the elderly, the sick, school age kids etc.--so you know which might suit you and your dog best. As an addendum to that, you might want to look at how many local facilities welcome dog/handler teams from that particular group if you're looking for a variety of places to visit. Fourth, if you can, get a feel for those already involved in the group. After all, if you do pack visits or attend meetings/social events with these people and their dogs, you want to get along with them.

Just as an added note, I was really glad that our local chapter of TDI had a four week class that focused on those things beyond obedience that a therapy dog must be able to handle--things like being around people in wheelchairs or walkers, being around kids who are playing and being noisy, dealing with the kinds of sounds you might run into in a hospital or nursing home etc. It's kind of hard, even inappropriate, to ask to borrow someone's kids to see how your dog will react to them or approach people who are actually confined to wheelchairs, just to see what your dog will do. It gave me a good idea of what my dog was okay with and what he might need work on before the test--and the test was held in the same place where the course was held, so he and I were both comfortable with the place and the evaluators before the test, which was helpful. In addition, the four week class was only $20 and the test was only $5, so it was quite the bargain. But I think a lot of pet therapy groups try to keep the costs down so that people with great dogs and an interest in volunteering don't end up feeling like they can't afford to do so financially.

Incidentally, I'm not suggesting TDI is the be all, end all of therapy groups. In my case, it was just the only game in town, so to speak. But if I were ever to choose to join a different group with some future dog, I would prefer a group that did have a class like that because I found it really helpful in preparing for the test, and I'm sure it helped my dog and I pass on our first try at the test.
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Old 06-23-2015, 04:29 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Aspen726 View Post
I'm working on polishing Aspen's obedience now but long term, I'd like to make her a therapy dog. She is such a sweet girl and really LOVES children. I thought she'd be a great candidate to bring to children's hospitals.

Does anyone know the best way to get started? I assume there are different laws depending on which state you're in but is there a national database?

Thanks in advance.
I realized I forgot to answer your national database question. The AKC site has loads of links to websites for therapy dog/animal organizations (some groups certify only dogs; others include other animals too, though some of the certification requirements are different for the various types of animals). From national websites, you can likely find local websites as well. I was kind of lucky in that I knew someone who was in TDI here, so I had easy access to the local group. National websites will also let you know exactly what your dog will need to know past basic obedience to get certified by that group while local websites can give you information about what facilities they visit regularly and what kind of programs they run as well as how often they test and if they run pre-test classes.

It's great that you're working on polishing the basic obedience first, because some groups that offers a pre-test course will want to know that your dog is already familiar with the basic commands before you enroll in the course that deals specifically with the testing requirements. Our TDI chapter is now heading in that direction, though it still offers a brief review of basic obedience at the beginning of the first of the pre-test course's sessions just to make sure everyone's ready to move toward more specific therapy dog training issues. Tricks aren't necessary for therapy dogs, BTW; they're fine if you want your dog to know them, but they're not required, and some people may regard some of the things your dog will need to know as tricks. Some people have seen my dog's "leave it" command as some sort of trick, but it's really a required part of the TDI test and for good reason--you don't want your dog picking up and eating something at a facility that it shouldn't have or even taking something it's offered, as people will sometimes offer things dogs might like to try but shouldn't have (like chocolate).

Oh, and since you mentioned your dog loves kids, you might also check to see what local therapy dog groups are running reading programs in schools/libraries. The programs go by different names--TDI's is Tail Wagging Tutors--but basically they all involve the same thing: kids practice/refine their reading skills by reading to the dogs. I'm not involved in TWT myself because I'm working during the school day, but if you want to work with kids, that's another option. However, you really would need to be certified by a therapy dog group to do that, as schools have to be concerned with that (they typically ask for a criminal background check too, as anyone volunteering with kids in schools goes through that now). Hospitals generally require certification too, as do some, but not all, nursing home and assisted living facilities. A lot of facilities also require some kind of orientation session, though those aren't necessarily lengthy. A local nursing home's orientation, for instance, is a video followed by a brief discussion of the rules the video covers--like what you are and aren't allowed to ask about a resident's health (e.g. it's okay, obviously, to ask about whether a resident is allergic to dogs but it's not okay to ask why someone was recently hospitalized or what his/her health history is)--and a tour of the facility. It might take an hour or two at most.

Good luck and please let us know how you're doing in getting your dog certified.
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Old 06-23-2015, 04:40 PM
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THANK YOU for that post! That was so helpful!!
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Old 06-23-2015, 08:55 PM
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If you can stand one more suggestion from me, one thing you could work on that is required by the TDI test, and probably by others as well, that isn't covered by basic obedience is your dog's willingness to stay with a friendly stranger (it can be someone your dog knows, just not someone he/she spends a lot of time with normally) for three to five minutes while you leave the room/building. I mention it only because it seems to bother some dogs a lot. I know someone whose dog is spot on with obedience commands etc. but who failed the TDI test multiple times--it's an all or nothing test--simply because the dog whined incessantly when she was out of the room, and it took the dog a lot of practice to get over that. For the TDI test, at least, the dog can keep an eye on the door through which its owner exited as long as it doesn't keep whining or barking or pulling to follow the owner/handler. According to the person who stayed with my dog, he watched the door for a little while but then got so into being talked to and petted by the person who was staying with him that he didn't care. The only thing he stalled on at all was, weirdly, the recall, which he knows perfectly well and did--he just strolled back on over to me as opposed to the dogs who ran to their owners. But since it wasn't a timed test and he didn't stop along the way or get distracted by anything else that was going on, that was considered acceptable. At one point, the evaluator also leaned over to me and said she'd never seen a dog seem honestly bored by watching kids racing around playing ten feet away from him, but as I later explained to her, the woman who lives next door to me has a couple of kids and babysits for a couple of more. He sees those kids running around playing on the other side of the fence regularly, and we live across the street from two elementary schools (one public, one private). it's not as if he's never seen lots and lots of kids tearing around before. He interacts well enough with kids, but he's so used to seeing them around that there he doesn't get all hyped up by the sheer sight of them anymore. If they're not close enough to pet him or throw a toy for him or feed him a treat, they might as well be lamp posts.
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