Most therapy dog teams at my organization like to work with children. It is encouraging to see a child read their first book successfully at the library or to visit with your dog at the children’s hospital, but there are others who will benefit from the interaction your dog can give as well.

Adult day care is a venue that the general public may not be aware of. Adult day care is a place where parents and caregivers of patients with Down Syndrome, Alzheimer, Dementia and other catastrophic conditions who normally are being cared for in their own home, can be dropped off for the day. This gives the caregiver(s) an opportunity to complete errands of their own or take a much needed break during the day. At adult day care there are activities and games, handled by a professional licensed staff and volunteers. Then twice a month a therapy dog comes to visit! Well at least at mine!

There are some challenges that the therapy dog team may encounter when working in this environment. One of the first that comes to mind is adult children with Down Syndrome. These young adults may run up to your dog wanting to kiss him on the head or face repeatedly during the visit. Make sure that your dog is comfortable with this. Not all dogs like to be approached in this way, as it is confrontational and direct, watch his body language. If your dog tries to turn his head away, it means he is not comfortable with it. So walk him away from the situation, you may also tell the client that he doesn’t like that. It is very important to know your dogs body language and limits in these settings. You are your dogs best advocate! Watch his tail too. Tails that are dropped can be misleading, as some dogs have theirs down most of the time, but if your dog has his tail tucked up under his legs, he is not happy and you should leave immediately! Another one is anxiety, pacing or straining at the leash. If you did not allow your dog to potty before entering the facility, this could be the reason for this behavior, so take a short break and then come back inside.

Be aware too that many older people are afraid of dogs, don’t assume otherwise. There are many ethnicities in this nation, so there are many beliefs, regarding animals and their place. Always ask a person if they would like to pet your dog, if they say no, or show no interest move on to the next person. I was visiting an Indian man and his mother and he told me that in India there are many wild dogs that roam the streets and people do not touch them, so it was a rare treat for his mother to touch a dog. My pleasure was in the gleeful smile on her face, and the chatter we created!

The Good Shepherd- Jo Coudert
A Dog Who is Always Welcome- Lorie Long
Healing Companions- Jane Miller
Animal Assisted Interventions for Individuals with Autism- Merope Pavlides
Through a Dogs Eyes- Jennifer Arnold
Therapy Dogs Today-Kris Butler

It is always important to keep up with what is going on in the therapy dog training world. You can do this by taking classes offered by other trainers and organizations or taking advanced courses or any course that the organization that you volunteer for offers. There have been several books written about therapy dogs, their owners and the work they do. I have posted a book list of those that I found especially resourceful. Please let me know if you have others that you have also found helpful.

Recently the organization I volunteer for has become an affiliate of the group Intermountain Therapy Animals (ITA). ITA offers a program called R.E.A.D. which stands for Reading Education Assistance Dogs. This program offers two training workshops for beginners and advanced volunteers. R.E.A.D. dog teams are available for all young readers in inner city schools, outlying areas and libraries to build their confidence in reading out loud and improve their reading skills. Young readers have found it easier to read to a patient dog listening to their every word, than to their parents or their peers. Not only has it been documented that the child’s reading improves, but some children who may have been afraid of dogs, find new friends in the dogs that listen to them read. Much like new skills learned in a dog training class there are additional skills that may be needed for your therapy dog to become a reading dog. A dog that is able to hold a down/stay for up to 30 minutes at a time may be a candidate for a reading dog.

Often times therapy dog class participants express a desire to take a trick training class. Although tricks are not generally part of the therapy dog visit, in some cases, especially when working with children, a few tricks are acceptable. If I am at a library with one of my dogs, I will offer to let the child ‘train’ my dog to do tricks AFTER the reading session. This not only is fun for the child, but also builds up their self-confidence when the dog actually does the trick they have asked for. Having a child ‘train’ your dog to do a trick is a reward in itself for the child and the dog, as it reflects a job well-done! If you allow a child to give your dog a treat make sure that the child’s hand is kept flat, and that your dog takes treats graciously.

There seems to be confusion between the terms Certified and Registered Therapy dogs.

If your dog is registered it means that they are registered with a particular organization like Pet Partners, Paws and Think Inc., Therapy Dogs International, Love on a Leash, etc and that you are ONLY registered with that organization. If your dog is certified it may mean the same thing, if you took a class through a similar organization, or it may just be a piece of paper saying that you passed a class or evaluation. Confusing? Yes, I think so too! The answer is below.

If you are not volunteering for a specific organization then you are not registered with an organization.

Should you decide to affiliate yourself with one organization over another, then you would want to register your therapy team with them. In doing this you will most likely have to take a written manual test and possibly a class, as well as pass an evaluation as a team with your dog. Once you have met and passed their requirements, then you will become a registered team with the organization for a predetermined amount of time. For example, Paws and Think, who I have volunteered with for over 5 years, does team re-evaluations every two years. Re-evaluating yearly or bi-annually helps to insure that the teams that are sent out into the community are well-mannered, well trained and predictable at the venues that we place them in. Should a behavioral issue with your dog arise an organization would want to be the first to be aware of it during a re-evaluation, or from feedback from our venues.

There are other perks from being registered with one organization. Most reputable organizations carry insurance on their registered therapy teams while they are at their venues. It is also recommended that you carry your own liability insurance or add your therapy dog(s) to your homeowner’s policy. Each organization’s policies may be different. Be sure to stay up to date with policy changes.

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Animal Assisted Therapy (AAT) are team visits with patients, that are documented by doctors or professional medical personnel.  These visits are also known as complex venues.

Generally a team that goes to a complex setting will be an experienced team. A team that has gone to routine venues on a regular basis for a time.  Some organizations do not offer complex settings to any one except seasoned regulars.  They first want to see the committment level of the team before raising the bar to the complex settings. This is a justifiable precaution. It is sad and amazing to me, how many people love to be able to say they have a registered therapy dog, but then don’t volunteer. What a waste of good intention and dog love!

Complex venues have you and your dog working directly with the patient, while the medical staff is documenting your time together. This information will become a permanent part of the patients medical file. Veterans hospitals utilize AAT regularly for mobility therapy.  Dual leash walking, a dog that retrieves reliably, knows verbal commands and can read cue cards, are all extra skills that your dog should know when working in an AAT setting.

It is also important to make sure that your dog is emotionally equipped to visit some advanced venues. Hospice and Alzheimer care centers for instance can be an area for concern if your dog is of a sensitive nature.

I have had personal experience of this so I feel that I should mention it. I take my Golden Retriever mix to a nursing home medical center on a regular basis, which he excels at, so when the opportunity came up for me to take him to a facility that cares for Alzheimer and Hospice patients I readily signed up. The first time we visited, we only stayed for 45 minutes as he and I needed to get a feel for the place, the patients, the elevator and the routine. The second time we went, was better as there was no screaming and yelling from the patients and though we took an early break, afterwards he was more relaxed. We made it through the hour visit and went home. At 12:30am the following morning, my dog started having cluster seizures. He had 5 episodes before I could get him in the car and 4 more before I could get him to the emergency vet. He is 3 years old, has never had seizures before and has not had them since that morning. So there was no need for seizure preventative medicine. The vet and I believe that these seizures may have been caused by my dogs sensitivity to the hospice patients and their life expectancy.

It makes sense if you think about it. If dogs can sense and alert to when someone is going to have a seizure or has cancer, then why would it be so strange for a dog to be so highly sensitive to the sadness and raw emotion found in humans.

Animal Assisted Activity teams are trained initially to go to routine venues. This might be considered, by some as the beginner level for most teams. I believe that all experience in AAA training is GREAT experience, and the more training you have, the more equipped you and your dog will be when working together as a team. This is especially important when working with children and on your own at routine venues.

An Animal Assisted Activity therapy team would go to a routine venue, because it is NOT a documented visit by doctors or medical staff. Examples of a routine venue would be a reading program at a school or in a children’s library, a retirement facility, a grief program for children or adults, an adult daycare or a hospital where there is no patient therapy, only visitation.

Most newly graduated AAA therapy teams want to work in children’s hospitals,  veterans hospitals or in reading programs with children. These settings are the current favorites.


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