Want to train your dog to be a therapy dog? Start here

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Fidel and Rachel McPherson comforted families of 9/11 victims.(Photo: Tarcher/Penguin)

Guest blogger Rachel McPherson is the founder and executive director of The Good Dog Foundation in New York City and author of the new book Every Dog Has a Gift.

People frequently ask me how their dog can become a therapy dog. There is a common misconception that therapy dogs need to be a certain breed, or raised to be therapy dogs from a very young age. On the contrary, therapy dogs come in all breeds and sizes!

A therapy dog can provide healing to his or her companion or family, as well as hundreds of other people in a therapeutic setting – whether a hospital, a school or a retirement home. The remarkable work of therapy dogs (as well as service dogs and household pets) inspired me to write Every Dog Has a Gift. Likewise, I hope that readers will be inspired by the amazing stories in this book to do some good work with their own companion dog!

If you’re interested in getting your dog certified, here are some tips to get you started:

  • Find a reputable therapy-dog organization. If you’re located on the East coast, visit TheGoodDogFoundation.org. If not, find an animal-assisted therapy organization in your state that offers a training program. There are a number of organizations mentioned in the book, and many can be found online as well.

  • Undergo an evaluation and a training course. A
    good animal-assisted therapy organization should offer a thorough
    evaluation, training program, basic obedience training (if necessary)
    and follow-up. An experienced trainer will evaluate you and your dog as
    a team and place you in the appropriate courses. Training courses
    should use positive reinforcement and patient, reward-based methods.
  • Volunteer!
    The Good Dog Foundation maintains relationships with hospitals, schools
    and other facilities where we help schedule and orient therapy teams as
    they begin their outreach. After certification by a therapy
    organization, you and your dog can volunteer on your own or, even
    better, work with that organization to find volunteer opportunities in
    your area.

For more information and inspiration, check out Every Dog Has a Gift. Chapter four, “Getting Involved: How to Become a Handler-Dog Therapy Team,” contains further details on the training process.

Stay tuned for our Every Dog Has a Gift book giveaway next week and another great guest post by Rachel!

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