Dog therapy training is a form training that allows your German shepherd to participate in animal-assisted therapy, or AAT for short. AAT involves animals as a form of treatment of the patient’s social, emotional, or cognitive functioning. Animal that are used in such treatment include domesticated pets such as dogs and cats, farm animals as well as marine animals such as dolphins. Several different studies have suggested that animals may provide intangible benefits to the mental health of individuals, such as relief social isolation and boredom. Some other studies suggest animals can lower blood pressure and dog walkers are motivated to carry out more physical activity. It also makes sense to use animal assisted therapy given that two-thirds of all households and about half of elderly individuals in the U.S. own pets.
A study published in 2014 reports that “nurses have written their personal, qualitative observations that animals relieve loneliness and boredom, foster social interaction and add variety to the live of such persons…” Another study presents the quantitative effects of interaction between dogs and children with pervasive developmental disorders (PDD) which are characterized by lack of social communications and abilities. In this study/experiment, children with such disorders interacted with therapists together with a nonsocial toy, a stuffed dog, or a live dog. The study’s results showed that children with such disorders exhibited not only a more playful mood, but also were more aware of their social environments with the presence of a live therapy dog.
It is clear then that dogs can play a role in providing comfort to individuals in general, or more specifically, individuals with disorders or are going through a rough period in their lives. I for one have experienced the therapeutic effects of interacting with pets in general. There are two instances I would like to share with regards to this topic. The first experience is when I was younger (probably 15-18 years old); during this time, whenever I felt down, I would just head off to the spend time with my dog, whether it’s just sitting there with her, or playing soccer with her. The other experience I would like to share is that whenever things gets stressful at my workplace, I tend to stop by the dog park during my commute home. In both of these experiences, I would often feel much better after interacting with a dog or even just looking at other people interact with their dogs. I guess the happiness from other dog owners when they’re interacting with their dogs somehow resonates with my happiness levels.
If after reading this you feel motivated and feel like you and your dog can together form a pair that can help other individuals in need of such therapy, where should you start in dog therapy training? We’ll get you covered on the basics, so read on!
The American Kennel Club (AKC) awards the AKC Therapy Dog title to dogs which are registered/certified by organizations listed on the AKC website. Any breed of dog can undergo the dog therapy training. However, it is recommended that your dog is at least 1 year old before undergoing to dog therapy training; the reasons being to provide sufficient amount of time for the dog owner to determine if his or her dog is suitable to be a therapy dog. A good therapy dog should ideally have the following traits:
1) Friendly and accepting of strangers.
2) Calm, able to sit on command and stay for a long period of time.
3) Comfortable around adults and children (or one or the other).
4) Able to walk calmly through a crowd.
5) Enjoy being groomed or pet by a stranger.
6) Relaxed despite loud and disruptive noises.
7) Comfortable and confident in a new or changing environment.
8) Does not have any behavioral problems such as aggression.
As for you, the therapy dog volunteer, you should have the following traits:
1) Friendly with other people and their pets.
2) Enjoy interacting with people of all ages.
3) Comfortable in a nursing home, medical setting or in a school setting.
4) Have the commitment in terms of time and energy to volunteer on a regular basis.
5) Willing to keep your dog’s vet records and shots up to date.
If you and your dog meet most of the items on these lists, it’s now time to pass the exam required to to a certified therapy dog! Your dog will undergo tests pertaining to obedience and temperament to name a few. These tests are the Canine Good Citizen test and the Therapy Dog Evaluation. Now, what happens if your dog fails the test(s)? Fortunately, there is no limit as to how many times you can be tested for these evaluations. However, it is highly recommended that you provide dog therapy training to your German Shepherd before enrolling your dog for the evaluation. After all, practice makes perfect!
Before you go start planning on your dog therapy training, the last thing we want to bring up is that a therapy is not the same as a service dog, so don’t get them mixed up!