Therapy Dog/handler teams volunteer their time and are beneficial in many different environments from library reading programs (kids can read to dogs to improve reading skills) to hospitals and nursing homes. Dogs may even help children and adults with physical therapy appointments for faster recoveries and lower university students' stress on testing days! Therapy work is an excellent fit for dogs and handlers that love interacting with new people.
Skye’s Dog Training offers training options such as group classes or private sessions to help clients reach their goals of becoming a Therapy Dog team.
The term “Therapy Dog” is frequently mistaken for “Emotional Support Animal” (sometimes called Companion Therapy) or “Service Dog”. To clarify, Therapy Dogs and their handler partners volunteer their time visiting institutions such as hospitals, libraries, nursing homes, etc.; they are not therapy dogs for their owners but rather for the public in the places they visit. Emotional Support Animals provide emotional support and comfort for their owners and are recognized under federal housing laws; they are not necessarily trained to perform a specific task for their owner and do not accompany the owner in public. Therapy Dogs are also sometimes mistaken for Facility Dogs. Facility Dogs accompany their handler at work (often in health care, legal and education settings) to assist the working handler’s clients.
Most clients will choose to works towards the goal of becoming a registered therapy team by taking a series of group training classes. Skye’s Dog Training suggests clients take Beginning Pet Manners, Intermediate, Advanced and then Therapy Prep to prepare to take the therapy test. Clients will often choose to take field trip classes as well to work on good public behavior.
The testing and registration of Therapy Dogs with a therapy organization is not required; however, most Therapy Dog/handler teams choose to be tested and registered with a nationally recognized therapy organization as many places where a therapy team may want to visit will require the team to be registered with a group. (Some nursing homes and other facilities do not require registration with an organization but it is a good idea for handlers to, at minimum, acquire insurance for their visiting Therapy Dog; most therapy organizations provide insurance for their registered teams.)
Because there are no national standards for Therapy Dog testing, and organizations can vary in their team requirements, Therapy Dogs are technically not “certified” (the term “certified” generally implies a national standard of testing), but rather “registered” with their therapy organization.
Skye’s Dog Training recommends that clients look into Utah Pet Partners (formerly Therapy Animals of Utah) as a therapy organization testing/registration option therapyanimalsutah.org. There are other therapy organizations as well; however, the Therapy Prep class is based after this group’s test, although the class would be helpful for clients to prepare for any therapy test. If clients choose to test through Utah Pet Partners, they will need to meet the organization’s testing requirements. Please see their website for more details.
Skye’s Dog Training recommends that clients start in a Beginning Pet Manners group class (or private training) even if they have done training elsewhere since the methods used may not be the same or the topics may not have been covered in as much detail (or maybe not covered at all in previous training). The Beginning class is the most important class since it covers all the basics of how future skills will be taught. Something to keep in mind is that nothing from Beginning class is covered in any other class. Some foundation skills from Beginning will be expanded in more advanced classes, but the discussions of how to teach those skills will not be covered (since most clients will have taken the Beginning class first).
If clients would like to begin with private training, that is also an option. It is not possible to know how many hours of training would be required as it is very individual based on the dog's previous skills and temperament as well as the difficulty of the intended working environment.