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Could my dog be a therapy dog?

Animal-assisted therapy is a form of treatment that uses animals to help a person’s emotional, cognitive or social functioning. If you’re interested in animal-assisted therapy or in training your pet to be a therapy dog, we share which breeds are best.

Senior woman with therapy dog

One of the most common questions about animal-assisted therapy is what are the best breeds for visiting. The quick answer is that it’s not about breed, but about the individual dog and their personality. I have worked with and trained a variety of breeds for the work, including (but not limited to) Labrador retrievers, golden retrievers, German shepherds, pit bulls, basset hounds, beagles, shelties and plenty of other breeds.

Any breed can work

While the breeds that have been genetically shaped for super friendliness, like the retrievers, are the more common sights on visits, they aren’t the only dogs who can do this work. Here are some of the questions handlers should ask if they want their dog to be a visiting dog:

  1. Does my dog show an interest in seeing every person who passes them on the street?
  2. Is my dog good with a variety of different situations or environments?
  3. What kind of skills does my dog have?
  4. How much time can my dog and I put into training, testing and then visiting?

Assess personality and temperament

Regardless of breed, any dog who is suited to visiting work needs to be comfortable with a variety of circumstances and all the strange and sometimes stressful things those situations present: different types of floors (shiny linoleum, slippery marble), strange doors (automatic that open with a whoosh, revolving that can catch tails), sounds we take for granted (loud speakers, machinery, medical equipment, school bells) and the various smells of the environment (remnants from lunch on the floor, bodily fluids on a hospital gown, medicines, sticky fingers).

The dog that is highly driven to visit any and all strangers can sometimes ignore their natural urges to investigate the smells, run from the sounds or freeze at the odd floors or doors.

dog leashTraining is key

However, training will help your dog and you to better overcome these distractions, since your dog will sometimes need guidance in a visit setting to focus on the visiting and ignore all the environmental items that distract them. Additionally, you will need to be aware of your dog’s stress signals (they all have them) so you can intervene when necessary and help them or let them have a break.

It is less about the breed and more about the individual dog who loves everyone, is trainable and who has a savvy handler (you) to help them through the stressors of everyday visits.

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