Therapy Dogs

What do therapy dogs do? Can your dog become one?

Jolanta Benal, CPDT-KA, CBCC-KA
5-minute read
Episode #132

“The evening manager, Jorge, was very good about controlling the residents' hands (holding his hand with theirs) to make sure Alfie wasn't subjected to too much accidental rough treatment.  So it was mostly light, clumsy pats. By the end, Alfie was flopping down for belly rubs from the staff (relaxed hind limbs, tail loose), and tried to lick a hand or two.

“One fellow, one of the few who could walk without assistance, followed us around but backed up whenever Alfie turned to look at him.  Very interested, but scared I guess.  The other was a physically impaired man who actually came off the couch and crawled after us to spend more time with Alfie.”

So Alfie’s first visit wasn’t perfectly smooth, but Susan, the manager, and the therapy dog coordinator all helped out to minimize his stress and make the experience comfortable for him as well as engaging for the residents. Alfie and Susan went back a couple of weeks later for a second round:

Alfie’s Second Visit

“Alfie was a complete nut, wouldn't settle down, yodeled a few times, etc.  I didn't take him out for a longer exercise walk in the afternoon but now I’ve learned my lesson and will tire him out beforehand.  The workers and two of the residents who like dogs got a kick out of his antics. Of course as soon as he saw people laughing at his bouncing and yodeling, he bounced and yodeled more.  

“I also brought some Cheerios and the residents got to ‘feed’ him and a few of them were visibly thrilled to feel his cold little nose on their palm.  A resident who was too afraid last time was able to pet Alfie today, so that was good too.  And I think his biggest fan is the fellow from our first visit who crawled to him again today.”

If you think you and your dog would enjoy making therapy visits, get in touch with one of the groups I mentioned earlier, or ask nearby institutions whether there’s a local organization they partner with. Happy New Year to everybody, and special warm wishes to all the therapy animals and their handlers. Thanks for bringing comfort and interest to people who for whatever reason need more help and concern than most of us.

You can follow The Dog Trainer on Twitter, where I’m Dogalini. I’m The Dog Trainer on Facebook, and you can also write to me at dogtrainer@quickanddirtytips.com. Though I can’t usually reply individually, I welcome your comments and suggestions, and I may use them as the basis for future articles.

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Therapy Dog image courtesy of Shutterstock


About the Author

Jolanta Benal, CPDT-KA, CBCC-KA

Jolanta holds professional certifications in both training and behavior counseling and belongs to the Association of Professional Dog Trainers and the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants. She also volunteered with Pet Help Partners, a program of the Humane Society of the United States that works to prevent pet relinquishment. Her approach is generally behaviorist (Pavlovian, Skinnerian and post-Skinnerian learning theory) with a big helping of ethology (animal behavior as observed in non-experimental settings).