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Is your dog a therapy dog?

We get this all the time. The conversation goes like this:

Dog Owner:  “My dog Fido loves people and everyone says that he would make a great therapy dog.”
Angel Paws:  "Do you ever take your dog out?“
Dog Owner:  “No – but every person who comes to the house loves Fido”
“Yes- I take him for walks ”
“ Yes – to Petsmart. I also take Fido with me to pick my child up from school. Fido stays in the car and wags his tail”

Every situation described means that Fido stays in HIS COMFORT ZONE. Therapy dogs must be comfortable in a variety of situations - smells, noises, and people. Many dogs once out of their comfort zone are not happy, may fear bite or bark. Therapy dogs must be comfortable with many different people touching them, making strange noises and faces.

Therapy dogs do need to be able to follow commands given in a conversational tone from the owner such as sit ,stay, down and the all important—leave it. At NO time should a future therapy dog use a choker, prong, or shock collar.

If you are looking to use a trainer to learn some obedience—the trainer must be willing to train without a choker, prong or electronic collar. If not—find another trainer.

While working with your dog to prepare for possible future therapy dog activities here are some tips.

Remember- if you are NOT responsible when taking your dog out YOU will hurt future people as companies will not want anyone bringing their dogs to the establishment. This means-

If your dogs barks you REMOVE him/her IMMEDIATELY. No matter who or what started it. Barking or growling it unacceptable in public.
Make sure you are respectful to those who do not like dogs.
KEEP YOUR DOG UNDER CONTROL. That means no retractable leashes.

First take your dog out into public – away from his comfort zone.

How does your dog do? How does Fido like the smells, sounds, and people? Does Fido’s tail tuck under him, does he quiver, does he nip or fear bite? If he is doing any of these he might be able to become comfortable but it takes a long time and a lot of work.

When walking around these places have Fido walk along side of you. Weave in and out of the carts, or squeeze through tight places. How does Fido do? Is he scared of the carts, or close quarters? If he is not comfortable you may have some work ahead of you.

If Fido is used to traveling with a buddy leave the buddy at home. How does Fido NOW deal with the public without his friend there. You cannot visit with more than one dog at a time.

If Fido sees another dog how does he act? Does his tail wag or do his eyes squint – telling the other dog “Come Closer and I will get you”? Does he want to play and if you tell him “no” does he still pull and jump around or can you control him? Again how his reaction is and how you handle that reaction will tell you if you should go further.

As you feel more confident that your dog can become a therapy dog you will need to take the Pet Partner Workshop or the on line Pet Partner course. If you can take the workshop you would be advised to do so. The interaction and ability to ask questions will help you immensely.

After taking the workshop, practice the requirements so you will feel comfortable taking your evaluation. The final step is taking your evaluation by a licensed Pet Partner evaluator.

Many people think AAT is just petting your dog. It is a lot more than that. AAT/AAA includes a variety of people, places, and actions. You as a handler may be put into a situation that maybe the cross roads for the person you are interacting with. You may be the person that helps a child stay in school or try harder to read a book. The time with your dog may keep a person from going back to an abusive situation or calm them from having to deal with a difficult decision. As a Pet Partner team you may be a part of someone’s physical therapy after a stroke or amputation, or be that one thing that keeps an elderly person from becoming depressed.

Being able to be a Pet Partner team is great fun and can be exciting, tiring, and can give you a sense of accomplishment. It can be a long journey to get to that point but once there you will never regret going down that path.

If you have passed everything and now have a Pet Partner Registration number and are in the Waco area and are wanting to join Angel Paws go to to find out more.