By Whitney Riggs
For Paws and Think
What type of dog makes an ideal therapy dog?
A therapy dog should be friendly, patient, confident, gentle and at ease in most environments.
Therapy dogs must truly enjoy human contact, actively seek out connections with people other than those closest to them and be comfortable being petted and handled (sometimes clumsily) by unfamiliar people.
It’s also important for therapy dogs to be able to behave calmly in a variety of settings and around every type of distraction imaginable. Emotional maturity is key to this work, as it allows therapy dogs to be able to handle frustration, unexpected situations, and to be calm enough to put others at ease and be approachable.
If someone decides their dog is ready to be a therapy dog, they should honestly assess if their dog truly enjoys meeting new people and is at ease when being handled by them. Ask yourself: How comfortable is your dog in new environments, around noises, groups of people (including kids)? Does your dog have a good basic training foundation using positive reinforcement? Can your dog be excited about meeting new people but also remain calm enough to put those people at ease?
It’s important to not force a dog into a role that they don’t truly enjoy, as engaging in therapy work is a choice that needs to be made by BOTH the handler and the dog.
Calm behaviors can be taught just like any other behavior. You can always train behaviors, but you can't train the desire to interact. That’s up to the pup!
The biggest takeaway: Not every dog can be a therapy dog, and that’s perfectly OK! It’s important for dog owners to realize that the world is full of amazing dogs who are loving companions for their families, but not all of them are dogs who will enjoy therapy work.
Paws and Think can help to offer guidance as to whether a dog is ready to start their therapy dog journey, or what steps should be taken to become more prepared. For more info, visit www.pawsandthink.org