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How you and your dog can become a therapy dog team

Does your dog love people?  Does he eagerly greet every person he meets?  Do others tell you your dog is incredibly well-behaved and should be a therapy dog?  Do you enjoy watching your dog make people smile?  If you answered YES to any of these questions, perhaps you should consider becoming a registered therapy dog team with your best friend.

How:  The Alliance of Therapy Dogs (ATD) is one of several organizations with established protocols for therapy dog team testing and registration.  The Hendersonville ATD affiliate is Paws for Love. Their volunteers get useful information from ATD headquarters and share experiences with others doing similar work.

The ATD registration process assesses the ability of the therapy dog team to safely share their joy with others. The four part process begins with a standardized test of the most important skills necessary in any type of therapy dog activity.  Emphasis is placed upon friendliness balanced with control and calmness.

For the next three steps, the therapy dog team visits typical facilities accompanied by an observer who evaluates how the team performs in real-world situations.  The observer assesses the dog’s behavior and the handler’s ability to manage challenging situations in accordance with ATD procedures.  Once the team has passed all four steps and processed all the paperwork, they receive their registration materials. They are then ready to visit any facility that would welcome them. They also become covered by an ATD insurance policy covering the people visited, as long as member guidelines are followed.

Skills you will need to demonstrate:  There are three basic skill sets necessary to pass the therapy dog test and do effective therapy work.   The first is the team’s ability to walk side by side with a loose leash. That is a demonstration of their ability to safely move around crowded facilities without interfering with residents, patients, guests, families, or workers.  The second skill set includes those behaviors which allow the team to interact safely and happily with many types of people in unfamiliar situations.  The dog should eagerly, yet calmly approach people and should remain both patient and attentive while being petted.…the dog should eagerly, yet calmly approach people. Click To Tweet

Finally, the team must have the skills necessary to deal with distractions.  Noise, motions, unfamiliar dogs, and medical equipment are some of the distractions included in the test procedures.  Dogs are not expected to ignore the distractions, but they should respond immediately to the handler’s cues on how to behave.

Most who sign up for the ATD test have well-mannered, nice dogs.  Yet, some teams do not pass the first time. The most common reason why is that the human forgets to talk to the dog.  Therapy dog work involves new and constantly changing stimuli:  sights, sounds, smells, and touches.  Dogs will respond to these new stimuli and situations however they choose, unless their handler tells them what to do.  Usually, when people talk, dogs listen.

Getting started: Paws For Love runs tests the second Tuesday of each month at 7 pm at a local facility.  To sign up, call one of the following tester/observers: Jean Bartlett: 290-8653; Linda Nash:  696-2773; or Carol Vaseleski:  553-4085.  They will tell you what to bring, and where that month’s tests will be held. They will also answer any questions you may have.


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