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How do small dogs make good therapy dogs?

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By LITTLE PUPPY PAWS | April 21, 2023
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Some of the best small service dog breeds are the Yorkshire Terrier, the Corgi, the Pug, the Poodle, and the Chihuahua. These doggies are easy-going, intelligent, and friendly; they can be easily held and petted. When adequately prepared, these canines can be easily trained and show excellent obedient skills. But did you know whether any breed can be a therapy dog? 

Your dog should enjoy being around a wide variety of unfamiliar people. Age requirements vary according to organizations, but therapy dogs can be any size and purebred or a mixed breed. They can be small enough to sit on a lap or bed or large enough to rest a soft head for petting on a knee or side of a bed.

What Is a Therapy Dog?

Whether people are in a facility or some people need visiting to address a health or emotional issue, a therapy dog offers them comfort and compassion. According to the Americans with Disabilities, Act, service dogs that perform a specified task for a person with a disability and have unrestricted access to the general public are not the same as therapy dogs (ADA). They are also not emotional support animals, which do not require specialized education or licensing to perform their job but need a prescription from a mental health or healthcare expert.

Why Train a Therapy Dog?

Therapy dogs provide many physical advantages to the people they visit. They might lower heart rate and blood pressure, lessen patient anxiety, and raise endorphin and oxytocin levels. 

It’s not a one-way street, though. According to studies, therapy dogs make money from their work. Therapy dogs have higher levels of oxytocin and endorphins than typical household pets.

Hospitals, elderly homes, libraries, schools, and disaster sites receive therapy dogs. According to Linda Keehn, CPDT-KA, proprietor of Positive Canine Training and Services in New York and a therapy dog trainer, evaluator, and handler, “basically any location where a clientele exists, and it would be useful for the dogs to be there.”

But for example, you can’t just take your dog to visit a relative in the hospital. Therapy dogs must be registered with and certified by a respected national organization. But certification is the last step in a thorough procedure that involves temperament testing, training, and more on the way to becoming a therapy dog.

Can Any Dog Be a Therapy Dog?

Even if your dogs may show you unwavering affection, this does not automatically make them suitable for therapy work. Similarly, even if you are sympathetic, you might not make a good partner for a therapy dog team. How can people and dogs become a therapy dog team, and what qualities make a successful therapy dog?

Although many organizations do not accept puppies younger than a year old, therapy dogs must be at least one year old; also, many groups need that dogs complete the AKC Canine Good Citizen(CGC) test for obedience. However, some want an alternative test tailored specifically for therapy dogs. According to Keehn, who teaches and tests dogs for CGC and therapy certification, these components are crucial for any therapy dog appearing in public. A dog who cannot “leave it” when asked to or socialize amicably with kids won’t succeed.

Age and breed only matter that much. A Yorkshire Terrier that weighed only four pounds and a Beagle that was 13 years old were both successfully CGC-tested by Keehn. Keehn will only examine teams for which she had no involvement in training to avoid conflicts of interest. In addition to basic obedience, the dog needs to be naturally friendly, not too young or energetic, and want the work.

Tips For How To Train A Therapy Dog

Training a therapy dog involves more than just basic obedience commands. Therapy dogs need to be prepared to interact with people in various settings and situations and be comfortable with different types of people and environments. Here are some tips for training a therapy dog:

  1. Start with Simple Commands: Teach your therapy dog simple commands like sit, stay, and come as you begin training. These commands will lay the basis for more sophisticated instruction.
  2. Socialize Your Dog: Therapy dogs need to be socialized. They must feel at ease around individuals of diverse ages, socioeconomic backgrounds, and abilities. To assist your dog in feeling at ease in these places, expose them to various environments, such as hospitals, schools, and nursing homes.
  3. Train Your Dog for Particular Tasks: You may need to train your dog for various duties depending on the therapy work you intend to undertake with them. For instance, your dog might need to be taught to deliver deep-pressure treatment if you want to work with children who have autism.
  4. Teach Good Manners: Therapy dogs must be polite and well-behaved. Train your dog not to jump up on people, to greet people gently, and not to bark excessively.
  5. Work with a Professional Trainer: Consider hiring a trainer who knows training service dogs. They can assist you in creating a training program that is tailored to your requirements and overcome any difficulties you may have while exercising.
  6. Employ Positive Reinforcement: Use positive reinforcement to reward good behavior with snacks, toys, and praise. Avoid using punishment-based training techniques since they can backfire and undermine your dog’s confidence in you.
  7. Frequent training sessions are crucial for the success of your therapy dog. Train your dog in various surroundings and settings to help him feel at ease and confident in multiple circumstances.

How Therapy Dogs Can Improve Mental and Physical Health

Therapy dogs are canines that support you emotionally while helping to enhance your health. To help yourself and others, you can teach your dog to be a therapy dog.

Homeowners keep therapy dogs in their homes. They can also go to various places, such as nursing homes, hospitals, schools, and hospice residences. They have been taught to be kind and accepting of outsiders embracing or petting them. Children who tug at their fur politely ignore them, as do grownups who want the little ones to sit on their laps.

One kind of therapy animal is the therapy dog. In addition to dogs and cats, llamas and alpacas can be used as emotional support animals.

Therapy Dogs and Service Dogs

You may have heard of service dogs, but they differ from therapy dogs.

  • Service dogs are taught to carry out particular duties on their owner’s behalf. They undergo demanding, expensive, task-focused training designed expressly to assist their owners in coping with disability. The Americans With Disabilities Act has regulations allowing these dogs to go out publicly with their owners.
  • Therapy dogs, often known as “comfort dogs,” help people’s mental health by giving them comfort and attention. Their kind dispositions and unwavering love may be helpful for persons dealing with challenging health issues. But a therapy dog can be enjoyed by anybody, unlike assistance dogs.

How Therapy Dogs Can Boost Your Health

Several psychiatric diseases and mental health issues have been shown to benefit from therapy dogs. Interaction with therapy dogs and other companion animals helps patients with various diagnoses, including depression, bipolar disorder, autism, ADHD, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and Alzheimer’s disease.

Therapy dogs can also assist with physical health issues, occasionally leading to emotional difficulties.

 According to research, people who engage in animal-assisted therapy while recovering from painful surgery or a catastrophic accident may experience less pain. Research has indicated that these connections can raise the hormone oxytocin, which improves mood, and lower cortisol, which increases stress.

Getting Your Therapy Dog 

If you’re interested in learning more about getting a therapy dog to help you or a loved one, there are many directories online. You can find people and organizations in your area by typing “therapy dog” and the name of your city or town into a search engine.

If you’re interested in learning more about training your dog to be a therapy dog or visiting nursing homes or other facilities with your pet, conduct a web search for “therapy dog training” and the name of your city or town to see what opportunities are available. You can also phone or email the facility for further details about their acceptance policy.