(Guest: This blog has been written by Renea Dahms)
I began my therapy dog team journey in 2003. I decided to invest in the Delta Society’s Pet Partner Program and tested my two Australian Shepherds, Indigo & Vega. I was actually pretty happy that both dogs passed, and we were the first to do so (under this evaluator).
As I had spent 7 years as a pre-school teacher, I decided to become part of the local reading program, and each week I would arrive at my designated school with Indigo, Vega and my mom in tow.
The purpose of the reading program was to help those with reading difficulties by offering them a safe, non-judgmental reading partner, the dog. The school we were assigned allowed all the children dog time, so that those with good reading skills did not feel slighted and those with weaker skills did not feel singled out.
Like people, dogs have different personalities. Indigo was the class clown and Vega was all work, so naturally our third graders fought over reading to Indigo.
One memorable visit, Indigo wanted attention from the boy reading. His reading buddy was clearly into books. He never looked up from the pages, despite Indigo’s attempts to gain his undivided attention. After minutes of whining and noise making, Indigo finally took matters into his own paws, he stood up, flipped the book shut with his foot and sat on it, looking directly into the eyes of the boy. He got his petting and play time, with very little story telling.
Therapy dog teams bring comfort, memories, and peace to those they visit. Sometimes they simply open the doors of communication as someone remembers their dogs past, or they offer the closeness and warmth petting brings.
Therapy dog work can be beneficial to the team as well. The handler finds joy in the peace and comfort their canine brings and for dogs that love human attention.
Not all dogs are meant to be therapy dogs, and handlers should take great care in monitoring this. Some dogs start out enjoying it and later burn out, while others never find joy in forced interactions or the environments in which they must work.
Unlike service animals, therapy dogs are pets. They are loving dogs, owned by the handler and do not have the same public access as service dogs.
If you think your dog has the temperament to make the life of others more meaningful, I urge you to look into becoming a certified therapy team. There is a great need for therapy teams, especially in hospice settings.
To become a certified team, you will need to be tested by someone authorized by one of the organizations in your area. The top five are:
- Kenyon K9 Foundation
- K9to5 National Therapy Dog Registry
- Therapy Dog Incorporated
- Therapy Dogs International
- Pet Partners (formerly known as Delta Society).
Each organization has their own set of rules and membership options, but the one thing they all offer is insurance to cover you should an incident occur.
Consider becoming an integral part of someone’s life, become a therapy dog team.
©Renea L. Dahms