A good therapy dog is a dog born with a good temperament. They begin life loving people and other animals. With proper socialization and training as young dogs, they become well-mannered and focused on their handler. Their temperament makes them willing to work with people and be around other dogs - their training helps them understand their job as a therapy dog.
It is not enough that your dog loves to be petted. That is important but here are many other characteristics we are looking for in a dog that will be doing pet therapy.
- Has a good sit, down, stay. Comes when called.
- Walks on a loose leash on a regular buckle collar close by their handler’s side...no pulling, lunging, or jumping.
- Tolerates other dogs in close contact - shows no signs of aggression towards other dogs or people.
- No barking... Even happy barks!
- Does not shy away or startle from loud noises or music, crowds of people, screaming children, large pieces of equipment, or people in costumes.
- Will accept clumsy petting, friendly hugs, being bumped from behind or people gesturing or walking with a staggering gait.
- Loves to meet strangers, remains calm and stays relaxed when feet and ears are examined.
- Will ignore food, toys or medications on the hospital floor. Takes treats gently when offered.
- No licking or “giving kisses”.
- Comfortable in elevators.
When thinking about being a SMCA Pet Therapy Program volunteer, you must also consider what is necessary to prepare your dog for a visit. They must be impeccably clean with no doggy odors. Your dog’s toe nails must be trimmed and edges smoothed. They must be bathed within 24 hours before your visit. Their coat should be combed to prevent excessive shedding and free of mats. For large and long haired dogs, this takes considerable effort outside the time of your actual visit. Keep these things in mind to determine whether you can commit to being a volunteer with your dog.
We are basically looking for dogs that are well behaved and have focus on their handler and who are working as a team. These dogs also need to be willing to be around and with other dog /handler teams without showing interest or any kind of aggression. All of these are requirements to work successfully in a hospital setting around patients of all ages, family members and health care staff.