Do you have the type of dog people flock to? Is your dog able to lie patiently on the ground while many hands stroke his or her fur, and maybe even pull on a tail? Is your dog mild-mannered, gentle and obedient? Does he or she play well with other dogs, and not react aggressively in their presence? Does your dog have self-control?
If you answered yes to these questions, then your dog may just have what it takes to become a therapy dog.
Therapy dogs are brought to different facilities for the purpose of bringing joy, comfort and peace to those they encounter. They are often found at hospitals, nursing homes, libraries, group homes and schools. Therapy dogs are different from service dogs in that they are personal pets that are usually trained by their owners. They are not taught to help people with specific disabilities like service dogs, who are highly trained for that purpose. Service dogs travel throughout the day with their owners. Therapy dogs do not go everywhere with their owners, but instead go to certain locations for the primary purpose of bringing a smile to people’s faces.
If you think your dog would be a good candidate for this type of work, the first step in the process is to have you and your dog certified as a therapy pet team. Locally, the North Central Indiana Chapter of Love on a Leash (LOAL) helps interested pet owners through the necessary steps to become certified. LOAL chapter leader and volunteer, Debbie White, says that a good therapy dog is one “who is eager to meet new people, enjoys being touched, likes being around other dogs and has good basic obedience skills.” She says that this endeavor is really a team effort with the handler needing to have good control and rapport with their pet.
LOAL is regularly contacted by facilities looking to arrange a visit from therapy dogs. Some organizations ask for a one-time visit, for example IUPUI used therapy dogs for a student de-stress day during finals weeks. Other places ask for regularly scheduled visits, such as the Puppies and Popcorn monthly program offered at Hamilton East Public Library. LOAL can help therapy dog teams find a facility that will be a good fit.
Fishers resident, Lori McLeaster has found that having a therapy dog is an incredibly rewarding experience for both her and her family.
McLeaster has a five-year old goldendoodle named Archie who came into her life shortly after her father had died, her daughter had left for college and she was unemployed. The two spent a lot of one-on-one time together and McLeaster began to think that Archie would make a good therapy dog. “I realized he had a very gentle soul, and a calm personality,” she says. “I learned through some volunteering I was doing in Lawrence Township schools about dogs that came into the school for children to read to. I thought it would be a perfect fit.”
McLeaster found an organization located in Indianapolis called Paws and Think (www.pawsandthink.org) that offers a variety of programs and volunteer opportunities for owners and their dogs. After Archie turned one year old (a requirement) she took him to First Friends in Fishers for training, where he graduated from Puppy Kindergarten and the Novice Class. Archie also completed three Saturdays of training through Paws and Think to get him used to being around wheelchairs, walkers and other types of distractions.
Therapy dogs must be recertified periodically, which Archie completed last summer. “Re-certification needs to happen every two years. Archie still goes to First Friends about two times a month for reinforcement training.” Dogs can also participate in additional training for specific purposes. Archie and McLeaster are a R.E.A.D team (Reading Education Assistance Dogs) which means they visit with children who read stories to Archie.
For McLeaster, the time spent becoming a therapy dog team has been well worth the effort. The family now has another goldendoodle that they are planning to have certified. She and her husband are currently looking for a nighttime venue where they can volunteer together with both dogs. “Training the dogs together as a family has been a wonderful gift.”
Interested in finding out more? Check out these links:
Love on a Leash (LOAL) North Central Indiana Chapter
Paws and Think
Therapy Dogs International