Tango’s a therapy dog and his job right now is to listen to kids read.
Kids who might not read as well as their classmates, they might have a little bit of a speech problem, or maybe they can’t tell the difference between a period and a comma.
Reading in front of classmates who may snicker, giggle, or poke fun at them actually inhibits their reading skills. That’s where dogs enter the picture!
Dogs don’t care if the kids skip a word, if they can’t quite get the punctuation correct, or if they stutter a bit.
Dogs just really like it when a child sits on the floor with them, softly rubbing the dog’s fur as they struggle with each word on the page. Dogs don’t judge. Dogs don’t snicker. Dogs just eat up all the attention and will even offer an encouraging lick to the struggling reader.
Interested in getting your dog into therapy work?
You’re not limited to elementary schools and kids. Your dog could visit nursing homes, help relieve stress on a local college campus during stressful final exams, or visit wounded soldiers in the hospital.
Here are some ideas on how to get your dog ready for therapy work.
Good Manners Are A Must
Therapy dogs don’t bark. They don’t jump. And they aren’t rough with their mouth. Get your dog into a local positive reinforcement (clicker training) class that specifically teaches good manners behaviors. [Good manners are Smart Dog U’s specialty! We offer Canine Building Blocks to help teach your dog good manners!] You might need to go through your training class more than once to really solidify those good manners. Good therapy dogs are on their best behavior no matter how much the kids giggle and squirm, how roughly their handled by well-intentioned seniors, or how distracting the buzzes and beeps are on the hospital equipment. It takes time and practice, for sure.
Canine Good Citizen (CGC) Test
The bare minimum requirements are the CGC credentials. The CGC is a 10-item test and it covers behaviors like walking on a loose leash, coming when called, reaction to distractions, and sitting politely for greetings. Take a look at the full list of CGC test items. A more advanced test may be required if you and your dog wish to visit schools, detention centers, psychiatric facilities, and hospitals. The more advanced tests can be administed by The Delta Society and require that both you and your dog are tested to ensure you make a good team.
Join A Local Therapy Dog Group
Most communities have local therapy dog organizations that serve as an umbrella for coordinating all the visits and testing of therapy dogs. For help in finding your local organization, try searching for your town name and “therapy dog.”
Not every dog would enjoy being a therapy dog — two of my dogs at home wouldn’t enjoy work as therapy dogs. Nemo is a bit wary of strangers in unfamiliar circumstances and Lily is not good if other dogs are present (your dog must be good with other dogs — and by good I mean neutral [not good as in “Let’s PLAY!”]). Even Tango has his limits: one of our visits is with a class of 8 special education students who can be noisy, (unintentionally) rough, and unpredictable. One hour is Tango’s maximum in that environment — I make sure that we’re there less than an hour to ensure that Tango’s never pressed to his limit. So be sure to take your dog’s personality and preferences into consideration when you’re deciding whether to give therapy work a shot. Honor your dog.