5 Steps for Turning Your Adopted Dog Into a Therapy Dog
Nov 15, 2021 | Sophie's Circle
After adopting a dog from a well-reputed local nonprofit organization like Sophie's Circle, you may be considering sharing your dog's love and unique talents with others. Training your dog to earn the prestigious title of "therapy dog” or an “emotional support dog” is both a noble and extremely helpful way to spend quality time together. It has also been shown to be beneficial to your dog to have a rewarding job he or she can perform consistently. Here’s how to get started in five easy steps.
Therapy Dog Jobs Overview
?There are a large number of ways dogs can help people live life to the fullest. Such jobs include performing visiting people in longterm care facilities or hospitals, helping people physically by giving them a reason to exercise or providing a cuddly reward for physical rehabilitation efforts, acting as teaching aids, and more! It bares note that a therapy dog earns that title by being trained for a particular task and oftentimes receiving a special certificate where the title of an emotional support animal can mean the dog may have special training, a natural talent, lots of love to give, or any combination of these descriptions. It is helpful to note that while performing a therapeutic job in public settings or specific locations like hospitals and schools, attaining certification for your therapy dog may be required.
Also, keep in mind, if you think an assistance job may be better suited to your dog’s abilities and interests than a comforting therapy role, there is an extensive list of tasks you can train your dog to perform that can be extremely helpful to humans. For example, dogs can use their heightened sense of smell to detect health changes in humans like the onset of a seizure or a shift in blood sugar levels. Also, assistance dogs can retrieve dropped items or carry items in a backpack. While this article is focused on how to train your dog to become a therapy dog, you can find a helpful job for every four-legged friend based on his or her interest and abilities.
Step 1: Match the Dog with the Desired Tasks
?Since every dog is unique, the first step is to select the type of therapy you are hoping to use your dog to perform before adopting your dog of choice. Then, choose your furry friend based on the personality, exercise needs, and training ability that will work well with the specific requirements of that job. Personality and training ability are more important than breed or size in most therapy roles.
For dogs who are already adopted into your home, it’s never too late to start training and working towards a goal. The key to success is to keep an open mind about the therapy job that is a good fit for your dog’s abilities and interests. You and your furry friend will enjoy the learning process much more when the reward is something you can both appreciate. If loads of chill time petting your dog is not something he or she loves, then a therapy job that is more task-oriented and active might be something to consider.
Step 2: Master the Basics
Start your training process with the basic commands including “sit”, “stay”, “down”, “come”, “heel”, “fetch it”, “leave it”, and "watch me" using positive training techniques, and take your time perfecting this stage. Clickers, treats, and loads of praise are all excellent rewards and effective training techniques when teaching commands at any level. Keep in mind, even if your dog sometimes performs a sitting action following a “sit” command, that doesn’t mean he or she has necessarily mastered this skill. It is important your dog is clear on the fundamentals before continuing to more advanced training techniques. This way, you can ensure your dog is ready to listen to your voice, whistle command, or hand signal while also being prepared to follow quick safety commands in order to avoid potential hazards.
Step 3: Socialize Your Dog
Once your dog is comfortable with the basic commands, it’s time to test those commands around loud noises and other people and animals. For example, those training their dogs to become a calming comfort for people who are in the hospital will want the dog to perform all commands under different conditions, such as walking through stores or while visiting a populated park. The goal is to ease your dog into feeling confident, calm, and happy while still paying attention to commands you give as you visit different types of settings outside of your home. If your dog requires more training on the basics or some anxiety training, it is important to take that time to make certain your dog is completely relaxed and comfortable before proceeding to more advanced commands or applying for a therapy certification.
Step 4: Add More Advanced Commands
After mastering the basics in populated settings, it’s time to research the tasks your dog will need to perform in order to be helpful for his or her specific role as a therapy dog by reviewing the criteria found on your accredited certification program’s website. Use the same positive reward training techniques you practiced for the basic commands in order to expand on the list of commands your dog can understand and perform to complete the assigned task.
Step 5: Apply for Program Certification
Some certification programs are available to add credibility to your dog’s training and role as a therapy dog. This certification is especially helpful when offering emotional support assistance to patients in a care facility or students in a school setting where the rules for animals and visitors may be more strict for safety reasons. You can typically apply for your dog’s certification from an accredited program after your dog passes the “AKC Canine Good Citizen (CGC) Test” for obedience or, for more specific therapy jobs, after your dog passes another required test. The preferred test and training requirements are based on the role your dog will be performing and the accredited program you select. Such requirements should be clearly stated on the certification program’s website.
Where to Find Your Next Therapy Dog to Train?
Many of the loving foster dogs at Sophie’s Circle who were rescued from local shelters are waiting to bring great joy to others as therapy dogs, assistance dogs, or simply as pets. All it takes is your time, patience, care, and love. Look through our current dogs on our adoption page and, if you do not find a match to fit your needs, check back frequently for our new arrivals or consider fostering a dog to practice your training skills. Then, when the right dog comes along, you’ll be ready to tackle the fun challenge of training your therapy dog with ease!