For the Dog

At a minimum, the therapy dog should have the ability to complete basic obedience such as:

  • Heeling or walking on a loose leash
  • Down
  • Sit
  • Come
  • Leave It
  • Walking past a neutral dog
  • Gently taking a treat or object

The dog should want to do the interactions.

It should not be robot-like in its obedience to the point that it cannot share its personality with the client. For example, if the dog is in a session with a child on the floor reading, it should be okay for the dog to lie its head on the leg of the child. The dog should welcome petting.

Dogs should be comfortable with:

  • handling of nails and paws
  • grabbing scruff
  • staring into the eyes
  • prolonged hugs
  • grabbing tail
  • brushing
  • yelling
  • jerky movements
  • several people crowding it at once

Dogs also learn how to respond to unsettling situations, unfamiliar sights, and sounds, such as:

  • equipment
  • loud noises
  • loudspeakers
  • crowds
  • unusual smells
  • hallways
  • wheelchairs
  • fire alarms

If your dog displays the following behaviors, he/she may not yet be suitable for therapy work:

  • Growling, barking, or other signs of aggression toward humans
  • Growling, barking, or other signs of aggression toward dogs or other animals
  • Shyness
  • Lack of house-training skills
  • Medical concerns (advanced age, fatigue, stiffness, excessive panting, signs of discomfort, etc.)

For the person

The handler should be trained in:

  • effective communication skills
  • infection prevention
  • proper handling of leash
  • the policies and procedures of the facility
  • the scope of your role in each facility
  • proper hygiene and attire for you and the dog
  • stress reduction and conflict management
  • confidentiality

Many therapy dog organizations provide liability coverage for therapy dog team volunteers, but it is important to adhere to the organization's policies and procedures. If you do not have coverage through an organization or are working as a professional, you may want to consider liability coverage.

Lastly, it is important to remember that you are there for the benefit of the client. You have to like what you are doing. Make sure you are comfortable with what you are asked to do. If not, speak up to protect yourself and the dog.

Questions? Please contact the Therapy Dog Committee at tdcmte@canineprofessionals.com.