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MJ's Animal Blog

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Training Your Shelter Dog To Become A Therapy Dog

    Photo Credit: Pixabay
Big, soulful eyes. A wag of the tag. The quiet down at your feet. The unconditional love from your shelter dog brings joy to your life every day. Unfortunately, shelter dogs often get labeled as “broken” or “damaged;” however, these faithful four-legged creatures are not seen for the compassionate and forgiving animals they can become. Besides being an amazing and loyal companion, your shelter dog may qualify as a great candidate for a therapy dog too.
        Therapy dogs, along with their volunteer, are used in facilities such as nursing homes, schools, hospitals, and even prison to comfort people and give affection (American Kennel Club). Some veterans also benefit from contact with therapy animals. Many years ago, nursing homes prohibited animals from entering facilities. Today, more than half have pet therapy programs. Specifically for the elderly, therapy dogs provide a source of touch, increase communication between neighbors, boost morale, cope with loss or illness, lower stress levels, and simply bring joy and laughter to their daily life.
        With a simple pet, dogs can help patients relax, feel comforted or less lonely, lower blood pressure and heart rate, reduce medications needed, diminish overall physical discomfort or pain, according to UCLA Health. Putting hands on a dog releases serotonin, prolactin and oxytocin which help to elevate patients’ moods. Time spent with a therapy dog provides an escape and happy distraction and can motivate people to exercise. Children with autism, anxiety, or trauma also benefit by teaching empathy, appropriate interpersonal skills,developing social skills, help them pick up on social cues, and see how their behavior affects others.
Photo Credit: Pixabay

        In the recent school shootings in Florida, therapy dogs were present to provide comfort and support for students returning to school. Dogs reduce stress and help reconnect people to their surroundings in a difficult situation. In the regular day to day educational setting, therapy dogs help students improve their reading skills, confidence and self-esteem, and enhance the relationships with fellow peers and teachers by learning how to trust and accept unconditional love from their therapy dog. If you’re like me and are getting ready to head off to college, it is interesting to note that college students reported significantly less stress and anxietyand increased happiness and energy following their time spent with a interacting with a therapy dog.
        As a volunteer with your rescue dog turned therapy dog, a recent study reports your own mental health will improve and help you live longer. Volunteers reported lower levels of depression and increased life satisfaction. Once again, your adopted pet is making you a healthier, happier person!
        But before you enroll your dog to become a registered therapy dog, spend time evaluating his personality. The most important characteristic is temperament. Your dog must be friendly, patient, confident, gentle, and easy going no matter the situation. Like people, he needs an extroverted personality who loves to spend time with people. Your dog must completely trust you so anyone can pet, cuddle, and or handle him – and not always by the most gentle touch.
        Here is a list of behavior and temperament requirements from Therapy Dog United:
·      Friendly and accepting of strangers
·      Gets along with all sizes and breeds of dogs
·      Calm, able to sit on command, and stay for long periods of time
·      Ability to walk calmly through a crowd of people
·      Ignores distractions and stays focused
·      Enjoys being groomed and pet by strangers
·      Relaxed in all situations including loud, disruptive noises
·      Displays good manners even when you’re not in the room
·      Comfortable in a new or changing environmental space
·      Engages in eye contact
        The national therapy dog registration/certification program is through the American Kennel Club. Organizations including the Alliance of Therapy Dogs, Bright and Beautiful Therapy Dogs, Love on a Leash, Pet Partners, Therapy Dogs Incorporated, and Therapy Dogs International all can help you earn the title of AKC Therapy Dog where your dog must:
1)   Be certified/registered by an AKC recognized therapy dog organization.
2)   Pass the AKC Canine Good Citizen Test
3)   Perform the required number of visits for the title you are applying for:
 400 visits to earn the AKC Therapy Dog Distinguished (THDD) title
200 visits to earn the AKC Therapy Dog Excellent (THDX) title.
100 visits to earn the AKC Therapy Dog Advanced (THDA) title.
50 visits to earn the AKC Therapy Dog (THD) title.
10 visits to earn the AKC Therapy Dog Novice (THDN) title.
4)   Get a dog number in AKC records.
        As a volunteer, you may have to pass a criminal background check and child abuse background check.
        Making the commitment to volunteer and use your shelter dog as a therapy dog is one that will change lives including your own. Even if your dog came from a difficult situation or abusive household, the bond you create with them can also help others with their innate abilities to communicate unconditional love, compassion, and joy. It doesn’t matter on the size or breed of your dog. Your dog’s temperament may be the perfect fit to help others

Michael John Kulick
My goal with this venture is to give these pets a fighting chance in finding a good home for them and to let people know about the health benefits that come with owning a pet. I believe that every is unique and that each dog can cater to different people.

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