I have been asked numerous times why I’m in a training mode about pet therapy. Seems many people feel they have the PERFECT dog, and they want to know how to qualify their dog for this new adventure.
Having done pet therapy myself years ago, I enlisted an expert in the field, Sandy Dubin, who is a Pet Partner Evaluator and Instructor, to “correctly” answer 10 basic questions.
Just remember, pet therapy dogs are NOT service dogs. They are not allowed in public settings… only those where they are directly doing the therapy sessions, i.e. hospitals, retirement homes, assisted living facilities, schools, libraries, etc.
Here is my interview with her covering these topics:
- What can I expect my time commitment per month to be?
- How old does my dog need to be? Is it a requirement they be spayed or neutered?
- What does CGC mean?
- What is the next step when my dog passes the test?
- What happens if my dog fails the test?
- How much does it cost to have my dog certified?
- How often is certification given and re-certification needed?
- What other animals can become therapy animals?
- What do I have to do to prepare my dog for a therapy visit?
- Who do I contact if I want to do pet therapy in a hospital, nursing home, library, etc.?
People ask me how they can make their dogs therapy dogs. First off, their dog must be at least one year of age and they must either know the dog or have lived with the dog for at least six months. Socializing a dog with many different types of people and locations is also good. We look for a dog team that we feel confident would be predictable in an environment such as a nursing home that will bring smiles and won’t put anyone in danger of getting hurt. We do this by evaluating the dog (or animal) and their handler to make sure they can handle their dog, have a relationship with them so they recognize when their dog is getting too stressed and they may need to take a break.
We test these teams on basic obedience commands (sit, stay, leave it) and also a temperament test where we see how they do with a loud noise, medical equipment and several handling their dog all at the same time. We start out mellow and get a little more stress-filled to see how the dog and the owner handles it. We want the handler to also be the dog’s advocate, to know how to handle these situations. Stressful situations are going to come up.
With Pet Partners, we evaluate a dog every two years after its first initial evaluation to make sure the dog is still capable and to remind teams of things that maybe they need work on. It’s a good refresher.
Also, before you are evaluated for the first time, you take a course (it can be online or an in-person workshop) where we go into detail on things like the difference between a service dog and therapy dog, zoonotic diseases, HIPAA (privacy act), how to dress, and scenarios of how you should handle the many situations that will come up and how to protect you and your dog. We’re all about education.
1) A dog does not have to be spayed or neutered, as long as they are not in heat at the time. Then it’s best to keep them home! Any breed is acceptable, as long as their temperament is good. Also, such species such as rabbits, cats, pot belly pigs, mini horses, llamas, and birds are also acceptable and we have evaluation standards for them also. We find appropriate places for them to visit and we educate ourselves before we evaluate a species if we aren’t too familiar with them. We’ll have someone at the evaluation that is familiar.
2) CGC is an AKC (American Kennel Club) title that stands for Canine Good Citizen. It is a test with exercises that are very similar to a therapy dog test. Some organizations will use that CGC testing. Pet Partners’ evaluation is similar to a CGC, but we also do a lot of educating before and after and a little more temperament testing and assistance with how handlers handle their dog so that when they visit a facility, we feel confident they are a good, pro-active team.
3) If a dog does not pass the test, there are two options. One option is that the dog is “Not Appropriate” for pet therapy. In this case, this dog may never test again during its lifetime for pet therapy. An example is if the dog goes to bit an evaluator or an assistant during the evaluation. Or if a person is not appropriate… an example of that would be if the handler showed up drunk to an evaluation. I’ve never had that happen.
The second option is a team marked as “Not Ready.” In this case, they can test again as early as 24 hours after their evaluation. But sometimes it means that the team needs to work more on obedience or may have an issue that needs more training. And the evaluator might make suggestions to help them seek help. Many of us have had to test a dog a couple of times before it has passed. Or maybe this type of work is not something that this dog is going to enjoy and it’s too stressed, or it may need to mature a little.
4) Commitment. As I tell people, pet therapy is a time commitment and if you don’t have the time to commit, it may not be worth your trouble of the process. Ideally, it would be nice for people to volunteer at least 4 hours a month, but some people can only do 1-2 hours a month. Or you may have to take a break if your animal gets sick. Others enjoy visiting 8+ hours a month.
5) Rules. Every hospital and facility will have their own criteria also as to what they expect, like dress code, how many times you spray anti-bacterial, where in the facility they allow us access. So you’ll need to also follow the rules of the place you wish to visit.
6) Which reminds me… you may want to visit a particular hospital, but you find your dog does NOT enjoy hospital visiting… either because of the smells or doing a lot of visits to many people. So you may find that you need to follow a different path such as READ to a child at a Library or something if your dog enjoys that more. Listen to your dog.
7) After your dog passes, you will send your paperwork in to Pet Partners and they will send you your badge. Your evaluator can help you find places and facilities that might already have pet therapy and there will be other therapy dog volunteers that can coach you the first few times as you get your feet wet! If your evaluator doesn’t know of people in your area, they (or Pet Partners) can help find someone. If you want to visit a facility that doesn’t yet have pet therapy, you would go there first without your animal and talk to the volunteer coordinator or activity director. Bring your paperwork and liability insurance paperwork that you will get from Pet Partners. You may have to attend another orientation if you decide there’s a hospital you want to volunteer at, so you will learn their rules and also receive an ID badge from them.
8) Preparing my animal for a visit. You may need to carry a bag with some essentials in it. Things I carry in mine are a poop bag, picture cards (conversation piece), anti-bacterial, a brush, maybe a doggie treat, booties (to keep his feet clean while in the parking lot), ID badges, his vest (which goes on while at the facility).
9) Visits can be stressful on you or your dog, so watch for those signs. Over the years, I feel I could have written many books on how much my dog visits have meant to people. It’s a very rewarding activity that I do with my dogs and I just love it.
10) Cost: For Pet Partners the approximate costs are:
- vet visit for a health questionnaire
- Pet Partner online or workshop (between $80 to $100)
- Vest (if you decide to buy one) $50
- Evaluation ($0 to $40, depending on what your evaluator charges)… I charge $20 and I donate $10 of that to a charity
- any groomer that you might take your animal to… (I do most of my own grooming when I can)
- You can order some postcards from Pet Parters with your animal on it or do something yourself if you would like to hand it out to clients/patients… I do mine myself on Vista Print and I can be creative and I can buy about 500 of them for about $35
Pet Partner Evaluator and Instructor
Thank you Sandy for leaving no stone unturned!! So, here you have it. All the questions you probably didn’t know to ask, as well!