Therapy dogs can be of any breed, size and shape. They must enjoy human touch, be well socialised and have a friendly and gentle temperament. It is very important that they feel comfortable in busy and stressful settings. Ideally they should love to cheer people up and not shed too badly.
Your dog is a good candidate for dog therapy if her or she
- is comfortable in a new environment
- is comfortable with change and doesn’t mind being out of his or her routine
- is friendly and easily accepts strangers
- enjoys being groomed and petted by a stranger
- has good manners even when you’re not there and listens to others than yourself
- is calm, confident and carefree
- sits on command and can stay for a long time
- is comfortable with other dogs
- is comfortable with children
- stays relaxed, even with loud, disruptive noises
- is able to walk calmly through a crowd
- can stay focused, even with distractions
Small dogs are particularly well-suited to becoming Therapy dogs, as they can easily be lifted onto laps or beds and can comfortably stay there.
You also need to think about whether you have the time and energy to volunteer as a handler on a regular basis and take your dog to facilities, where he can make a difference. Like your dog, you also need to be friendly with other people and their pets and you should enjoy interacting with people of all ages. Do you have time to train your dog on an ongoing basis to continually update his or her skill level? You will need to keep your dog’s vet records and vaccinations up to date and keep his or her appearance up to a level required for all therapy visits. As a volunteer handler you might also have to agree to a DBS check to check your criminal background and ascertain your suitability to work with children or vulnerable adults.
There are a number of registration and certifying bodies for therapy dogs and they usually have to pass a challenging and difficult temperament and obedience test to determine whether they are suitable. If your dog doesn’t pass the first time, you can usually try again any time. To qualify your dog needs to be at least one year old, or if you have adopted a grown-up dog, her or she needs to have been with you for at least six months. Your dog needs to be micro-chipped, up-to-date with all vaccinations and free of ticks and fleas. It is also usually a requirement, that your dog is not on a raw meat diet.
If you are choosing a dog for the purpose of training them as a therapy dog, you should consider these breeds:
- French Bulldog
- King Charles Spaniel
- Golden Retriever
- Great Dane
- Bernese Mountain Dog
- Saint Bernard
- German Shepherd