Therapy dogs are trained to provide comfort, not to their owners or handlers, but to other individuals. Therapy dogs also frequently work in group settings. For example, therapy dogs can visit schools, nursing homes, hospitals, disaster zones, and other areas where people need comfort or a mental health break. Some therapy dogs are also used in therapeutic settings to assist with professional counseling.
There is no universal standard for the qualification of a therapy dog. If you’re interested in working as a therapy dog handler, it’s important to understand what type of experience and qualifications the organizations and individuals you hope to work with are seeking.
Any breed of dog can qualify as a therapy dog, as long as they have the proper temperament and intelligence. A good therapy dog should have the ability to be around groups of people and remain calm and dedicated to their tasks. A therapy dog must be able to remain focused even if the individuals around it are in distress. Proper socialization for a therapy dog is key. A therapy dog will come into contact with many strangers, so it’s critical to ensure that the dog has the proper demeanor and behavioral aptitude for the job.
Therapy dogs often work in various environments, some of which can be chaotic such as a school, hospital, or disaster area. A therapy animal handler has to be able to ensure that their dog will remain alert, calm, and responsive to their commands in any situation. A therapy dog also has to handle surprises as small children and people suffering from mental health issues may act erratically. For example, a therapy dog should remain calm even as a classroom full of excited squealing children approach it or in a hospital with distracting noises and doctors and nurses bustling back and forth. Due to these potentially stressful environments, it is also important that a therapy dog handler takes care to ensure that the therapy dog is not being overworked or stressed and is given the opportunity for plenty of breaks and periods of rest. A therapy dog should enjoy their work in assisting others.
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