This is an old post, but I’m reposting it on CNC since I get questions from time-to-time about how Murphy and I become a therapy dog team. I hope you find the information helpful and it inspires you and your favorite furry friend to become a therapy dog team too!
People often ask me how my dog, Murphy, and I became a therapy dog team, and it actually wasn’t as difficult as you might think. Of course, becoming a therapy dog team involves a little bit of work beforehand, but the effort is well worth it.
First, you need to make sure that your dog enjoys being around people and that he or she will enjoy therapy work. I knew almost immediately that Murphy would be the perfect candidate for becoming a therapy dog. He loves all kinds of people””young and old””and he doesn’t mind crowds or unfamiliar places. He also loves being touched and socializing. When we go to the dog park, for instance, he acts like the “pug mayor” and runs up to pretty much everyone he encounters with an enthusiastically wagging tail. It was pretty obvious how much he loves other people, so I knew he’d make a great therapy dog.
Additionally, it’s important to look at yourself and see how you deal with your dog when he’s around people. Murphy is well-behaved in public, but he’s not always the perfect pet either, which means I need to take control of potentially stressful situations for the two of us. Dogs pick up on their owner’s stress, so instead of worrying about how Murphy would react in an overly stimulating or hectic situation, I act calmly and confidently. Murphy picks up on my energy, so being able to read each other and work together makes us a great therapy dog team.
Pugs make wonderful therapy dogs because of their calm, confident, and even-keeled temperament, but therapy dogs come in all shapes, sizes, and ages. All kinds of dogs are welcome to participate as long as they don’t have aggression issues toward people or other animals. The dog must also have some basic obedience training. Therapy dogs should know how to sit, stay, and heel on command. If your dog has trouble with any of these commands, consider enrolling them in the AKC’s Canine Good Citizen Program, which teaches responsible pet ownership as well as basic commands and good manners for dogs.
Now that you know what being a therapy dog team is all about, here are some tips for getting you started:
FIND A REPUTABLE THERAPY DOG ORGANIZATION
When I decided that I wanted to become a therapy dog team with Murphy, I contacted Dog B.O.N.E.S, a local non-profit, volunteer-based organization in Massachusetts, who’s primary purpose is to train dogs for therapeutic purposes. There are many organizations like Dog B.O.N.E.S. throughout the country that register therapy dog teams and offer certification training and services. To find one in your area, try a simple web search or contacting your local ASPCA.
TAKE A TRAINING COURSE AND GET CERTIFIED
A good therapy dog organization will offer a thorough evaluation of your dog and training program to prepare you for making visits as a therapy dog team. Murphy and I enrolled in a 3-session “Introduction to Becoming a Therapy Dog Team Workshop” with Dog B.O.N.E.S. The workshop taught me how to become a therapy dog handler, what to expect during our visits, and exposed Murphy to environments similar to those that we might encounter together.
OFFER YOUR SERVICES
Like other therapy dog organizations, Dog B.O.N.E.S. maintains relationships with hospitals, schools, rehabilitation centers, and other facilities in the area where therapy teams are wanted. After receiving our certification, Dog B.O.N.E.S helped coordinate a weekly placement for Murphy and I to make our visits. Therapy dog teams can have scheduled visits like this or volunteer their services when time permits. Wherever you decide to visit, I guarantee working together as a therapy dog team will prove to be a rewarding experience when you see the joy that it brings to others!