Dogs provide a different kind of therapy

Published 7:52 pm Saturday, January 2, 2010

Therapy dogs provide a small glimpse of happiness to people who otherwise have trouble finding joy.

A therapy dog is a dog who, with their handler, visits those who need lifted up. This might include a resident of a nursing home, hospital patients, the elderly, or terminally ill.

Dogs have a way of producing a smile when nothing else will.

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What kind of dog makes an ideal therapy dog? A good temperament is a must. He must never be aggressive and be able to adapt to just about any situation. He needs to be outgoing and friendly with strangers.

He must be able to tolerate children. This would include heavy petting or an occasional ear tug.

Not only does a dog have to have a good temperament, it must display the same great temperament under stressful conditions. This could include a screaming child or being approached by a walker or wheelchair.

If you would like your dog to become a therapy dog, there are several things you will need to do. First do some research and find a creditable organization to get acquainted with.

Two of the largest organizations are Therapy Dogs International (TDI) and Delta Society. These organizations have established testing procedures to ensure that your dog is ready to be a therapy dog. During the test, the handler and dog team is tested. Your team will be asked to perform a series of tests.

These will include tests that will see how your dog does around a stranger and different medical equipment (such as a wheelchair, walkers, or crutches).

Other tests will include sitting politely for petting, their appearance, walking on a loose leash, walking through a crowd, sit and down on command, coming when called, and the dogs reaction to distractions and other dogs.

Also they will be tested on how they react when they are separated from their handler. The dog must be tested using a plain buckle collar or harness.

Training devices, such as a correction chain or head collar, are not permitted during testing or during a therapy dog visit.

While these devices may be good for training purposes, your dog should be well beyond basic obedience when being considered for a therapy dog.

Not only do these organizations provide a reputable group to be associated with they also provide credibility. When you join a therapy dog organization, your pet will be provided an id and most organizations provide some type of liability insurance.

This makes you and your dog more widely accepted at places like nursing homes and hospitals.

Therapy dogs bring joy to the sick, the shut-in, and the downhearted. Two of our own dogs are therapy dogs and we are proud of the work they do.

We have visited residents of nursing homes, patients of children hospitals, and families of patients.

We are always welcomed with a smile and, even if it is just for a moment, they forget their troubles. That is the reward. Joy. Remember, every dog deserves to be treated like a show dog.

Kate Barker, The BARKer Shop