What Makes a Good Therapy Dog?


Therapy dogs work in schools, airports, courtrooms, nursing homes, mental health clinics, and other community organizations. Depending on their role and training, they hearken to young readers, distract anxious travelers, support crime victims during legal testimony, and facilitate comforting reminiscence from frail older adults about long-ago days.

They take part in physical or occupational therapy sessions to assist patients improve their strength, task persistence, and motivation. In counseling offices, they join activities to assist clients achieve their mental health goals.

The animals that complete these versatile tasks are as wide-ranging as their skillset, from the tiniest terrier to the large Saint Bernard. Yet for all this magnificent diversity, essentially the most successful therapy dogs have a couple of specific characteristics and traits in common that uniquely situate them for work as helpers in healthcare, education, and other community settings.

Traits of Successful Therapy Dogs

Centuries of domestication and selective breeding have cultivated particular qualities corresponding to temperament, affiliativeness, biddability, and gentleness that ideally suit some dogs for animal-assisted activities. Obedience training shapes these characteristics, that are assessed through formal testing as a part of the team registration process.

Temperament refers to inborn disposition. It’s instinctive and innate, a biological inheritance that just isn’t readily liable to change. Additionally it is distinguishable from learned behavior.

For instance, untrained puppies from herding breeds try and control the movements of others by circling, nipping, barking, or staring (Renna, 2012). This behavior represents a natural, inherent disposition that could be developed and refined through training. These traits are desirable for work in the sphere but are disadvantageous for therapy dogs, who’re expected to reveal a relaxed and calm demeanor.

Affiliative dogs are socially confident and outgoing; they enjoy and solicit interaction with people beyond their immediate family. They’re unruffled in groups and are comfortable offering and receiving affection. They display eagerness and curiosity somewhat than reluctance or shyness when meeting latest people. Affiliative dogs are comfortable with themselves and others.

Biddable dogs thrive on loving relationships with their guardian handlers. They prioritize human companionship, accept and trust human leadership, and are motivated to work for the reward of treats, play, or praise. In addition they reveal an inherent ability for learning latest skills.

Some sporting breeds, corresponding to Labrador and golden retrievers, are known to be exceptionally biddable; this explains their popularity as therapy, service, and emotional support animals.

Gentle dogs are consistently tolerant and patient. For instance, they respond benignly to inadvertently rough touch, corresponding to a well-intentioned but clumsy thump on the top or flank by a patient with poor physical coordination. Guardian handlers are answerable for safeguarding their dogs and quickly redirecting this behavior; gentle dogs trust their handlers for cover and physically withdraw from uncomfortable contact somewhat than reacting aggressively.

Obedient dogs cheerfully undergo their guardian handler’s leadership. They respond reliably to verbal instructions and will understand gestural commands as well.

Interestingly, research shows that dogs respond more reliably to gestures than verbal directions (D’Aniello et al., 2016). This finding supports the preference of handlers who train their dogs to answer each voice and gestures or gestures alone.

Obedient dogs inhibit undesirable behaviors corresponding to mouthing, barking, licking, nudging, or pawing. They trot in smooth alignment beside their handlers and ignore environmental distractions. They flawlessly follow instructions to sit down, (lie) down, stay, come, leave it, give it, watch, and wait.

Capitalize on Strengths

When you’ve confirmed that your loved one canine is a super candidate for animal-assisted activities, congratulations! Now could also be time to check and register with a therapy dog organization so you possibly can start making visits.

Alternatively, perhaps you’ve read this far and have begun to appreciate that your pup may not be fitted to this type of work. Perhaps he isn’t particularly affiliative; he adores you but is indifferent to others. Possibly he doesn’t like being touched by strangers, or he’s a contented homebody who gets carsick and anxious during travel. Perhaps he’s stressed and overwhelmed by unfamiliar sounds, rolling carts, crutches, slippery floors, or automatic doors.

Training and de-sensitization might eventually change a few of these responses. Nonetheless, as your dog’s advocate, it’s your job to make sure his well-being and respect his needs and preferences. Even in case your dream is to take part in animal-assisted activities, you owe it to your pal to make certain it’s his idea of time, too.

Context matters when considering “ideal characteristics” and “traits of the greats.” Not every activity is suitable for each dog. The restless, athletic canine who paces impatiently on the hospice could have championship potential at lure coursing, and the placid pup who ambles through the kids’s hospital would probably flunk an agility competition. Respect your best friend by helping him develop to his highest potential, whatever that is likely to be, as a substitute of compacting him into the mold of what you’d like him to develop into.

In so some ways, our dogs are like ourselves: individuals with unique strengths, interests, and skills waiting to be discovered and fulfilled. Here’s hoping you and your pup find your bliss, doing whatever makes each of you wag with joy.