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I'm interested in one day getting my dog certified as a therapy dog. We're a long way off; he's just a puppy, but I was wondering if anyone on this board has had any experience with it? What about your dog made you think it was a good path? Were there any experiences/exercises you would have done with your dog when he was young that you feel would have made the process smoother? What advice would you have for someone considering this?
 

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I'm fairly certain @Tilden has registered their dog as a therapy dog.
 

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I don't have a registered therapy dog, but during one of Merlin's puppy classes a year and a half ago, there was a dog training to become a therapy dog that visited. She was a miniature Aussie and at four months old, she was the chillest, most laid back 4 month old puppy I'd ever met. I was amazed, to say the least. I think that's a HUGE indicator of a dog that might be a good therapy dog: calm and cool from the get go. But, I'll let others post who actually have therapy dogs. I will say that Merlin would NOT make a good therapy dog, not yet at least. He's way too excitable in all situations and far too jumpy and willing to lick.
 

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@JaySteller

There are a couple of people on here that have registered TD's and a few of us who are working towards it. My girl is a little over a year and a half and she's finishing up CGC this week. I was hoping to have her take the TD test this spring but I think I may wait a little bit- not sure yet. This decision is solely based on my time constraints, not her ability.

As a puppy, train a rock SOLID leave it. I can throw a pack of cheese and hot dogs on the floor at my dogs feet and she will NOT touch it until I tell her that it's okay. I feel like the "leave it girl" haha I always tell people to train this early on. Other than that, start training basic obedience right away - especially not jumping on people. If I could do anything different, I would have been more strict on this from the start. People would always say, "it's okay, I love dogs" and I didn't want to be rude so I would laugh and allow it. Now, I say, "I do not want my dog jumping. If she sits politely, you may pet her. If she doesn't, please do not pet her."

I'm certainly NOT an expert. This is just where I am at the moment. :) Good luck!
 

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Thanks! I hadn't thought leave it would be especially important, but now that you bring it up I can imagine why. I also need to get better at telling people"no"! I know what you mean when someone encourages your dog to jump on them and you feel like such a wet blanket telling them he's not allowed. Maybe I'll just tell people he's in training to be a therapy dog and can't do that.
 

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I have 6 dogs registered as therapy dogs. 4 are currently working, the other 2 are retired. 3 of them go into seniors homes, hospice and hospitals. The other 1, he is strictly schools.

None of them were trained from puppyhood, all came from a shelter, rescue or improper owner. However, they are all purebred rough collies (one is a cross) and that breed tends to excel as a therapy dog. 2 of my dogs are not registered as therapy dogs because their personalities are not right for it. One is extremely skiddish and scared of his own shadow, the other has an intense prey drive and while she has given me no reason to, I don't trust her.

One of the worst things is to allow people to let the dog jump, bark, lick, push, etc. Every time that happens all the work you've done takes a step back. Two steps forward, one step back. What I've found very useful is getting a harness that says "IN TRAINING DO NOT PET" or "WORKING DOG DO NOT PET" or "ASK TO PET". Generally, people abide by that (kids not so much). For friends and family, you just have to tell them that they dog must not do that.

For training, it depends a bit on the scenario the dog will be in. For example, my one dog who goes to schools needs to sit completely still and listen to the children read to him. He also has to look in the direction of the child most of the time (so the child feels he really is listening). He also is not allowed to lick the kids except on command.

You need a very solid leave it, drop it, heel, sit, down, stay and gentle.

All of my RTD's will leave anything. If I put a steak on the floor and leave the house, it's still there when I get back (if the other 2 dogs who aren't trained are elsewhere). If they have something and I say drop it, then do instantly. 3 of them will even spit out chewed up meat.

I've seen a lot of therapy dogs that grab when handed treats. That is no acceptable at all.

Another great skill to have is teaching the dog to rest it's head on the bed or lap. Depending on the dogs size, lay on a bed or lap.

If going into a care setting, get them use to hospital sounds and smells. The sounds is easier, because you can play clips from youtube of various sounds. If they are going into a school, take them near playgrounds at recess to get use to the noises. Take them into as many buildings as you can.

Also, take them into crowded areas and do not let anyone touch the dog. You need them to be able to ignore everyone around them if needed. And of course, expose them to all sorts of animals (outdoor petting zoos are great) so they get use to them and can ignore them too.

Get use to grooming the dog, a lot. For me, having rough collies means I spend a lot of time grooming. Each dog needs to be done daily.

You also need to consider yourself. If you are going to be taking the dog into a hospital, seniors home or hospice, know that it can be very hard. It could be kids with cancer. Or seniors who are dying, usually lonely. It can be very heartbreaking. Especially when you see the same people each week and then, they are just gone. You can really get to know these people and care for them.
 

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I am training one of my dogs with the goal of being therapy dog. He is currently 9 months old are is making excellent progress.

You have received good advice so far. I will add:

1. Find out what groups are active in your area. Go to their websites are carefully review the exam requirements. Use the exam criteria to shape your training.

2. Visit lots of public places and practice loose leash walking, sit/stays, down/stays, appropriate interaction with strangers, etc. don't just go to petco. Find other stores that allow pets or farmers markets or flea markets, etc. Try several places.

3. SOCIALIZE! meet kids, old people, disabled people, men, women, etc. Encourage only calm, polite, pleasant behavior. Praise and reward this kind of behavior to reinforce it.

4. Try to find some medical equipment (wheelchairs, walkers, canes, crutches) so you can introduce your dog to these items. Wheelchairs scare some dogs. But a therapy dog must be comfortable with wheelchairs. I borrowed a wheelchair that isn't currently being used and set it in my living room for a few weeks. Let the dog sniff it and get used to it. Then, have someone wheel around in it. Eventually the dog will not view it as a novelty or anything to be scared/excited about.

Just remember, it's a lot of work but therapy work should be a fun experience for both you and your dog. If your dog isn't having fun/enjoying the experience, you need reevaluate matters.
 

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Much of what I'd have suggested already has been suggested. Definitely expose your puppy--as soon as it's safe for its own health to do so--to different kinds of situations, people etc. Even just walking through a park on a nice day is likely to get your dog exposed to a variety of people and situations.

Enroll your puppy in an obedience course that would be appropriate for its age. I've never done a puppy class myself, as I've adopted slightly older dogs--my last one was eight months as opposed to four or six months--so I've generally done the regular obedience class. If the group you decide you're interested in has a class that preps you for the certification test, I'd take that too. It's really helpful to know exactly what will be required in the test and how the dog will be expected to move through the exercises, plus you'll have a good idea of what your dog has trouble with (if he/she has trouble with anything in particular) and get some ideas about how to improve those skills. I'm with TDI myself, as it was the only game in town where I live, and I know they won't even test a dog until it's a year old, so depending on which group you go with, it may be a while before you can even test, so you have time to work on socialization, obedience etc. My TDI chapter did allow some slightly underage dogs to take the course, knowing that they wouldn't be testing immediately, howevr (one dog, for instance, was a week short of a year for the test immediately following our class, but since he was so close in age and had strong obedience skills, he was allowed to take the class and then waited to take the test until the next opportunity, three months later). I can't imagine any such class would take a young puppy, however.

In terms of which group you go with, if you have a variety of options in your area, I'd start with looking them up on line, and then I'd talk to the organizers of your local chapter to get an idea of which group of people you'd like working with the most. It's also important to see if one group or another is working in the area you're most interested in--for instance, if you really want to work with elementary school kids, check to see which group might be doing a Tail Wagging Tutors or Reading to Rover program (the names of these programs vary, but they boil down to pretty much the same thing--kids reading to the dogs). If you're interested in AKC titles in therapy work, also make sure that the group you want to join is on the AKC approved list, which you can find on their website.

As for the medical equipment business, I have one other small suggestion: a lot of thrift shops have canes, walkers etc. that you can purchase relatively cheaply if you don't have access to them any other way. That's another thing that I found helpful about the TDI manners class I attended: they had current members wheeling about in wheelchairs, using walkers, using crutches, using canes, pushing an IV stand etc. and the dogs had a chance to learn the proper way to greet someone in each situation. I helped with the last class, and as the person in the wheelchair for one class session, I also had a very tiny dog put into my lap to see if he objected (he didn't--he just sat in my lap while I moved the wheelchair back and forth; he also passed his TDI test a couple of weeks after that, as he was very small but quite unflappable). If your dog is small enough to be envisioned as a lapdog, sitting in the lap of someone in a wheelchair is also something you might want to practice. My own dog, at twenty-five pounds, is a bit much for some people in a wheelchair but also a shade short for some people to easily reach, so he's trained to sit in a chair next to people. Dogs that size can also be held by their handlers, but I have a lift/push/pull limit on my right arm that makes holding my dog for any length of time uncomfortable and unwise for me, so I went the chair route. Last Saturday, he simply sat on a bench next to an elderly woman who quite enjoyed having him within easy reach without having him directly on her lap.
 

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Almost forgot--if you're thinking of doing pack visits (visits to facilities with groups of dogs), you need to make sure your dog is okay interacting with other dogs without being overly fixated on the idea of playing with them, as the point of therapy is for the dogs to focus on the people who are petting them and their handlers, not the other dogs. Not everyone does pack work, though. Some people do strictly pack visits, some do strictly individual one-on-one visits, and some do a mix of both.
 
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