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What Do Therapy Dogs Practice?

From the book EVERY DOG HAS A GIFT: True Stories of Dogs Who Bring Hope & Healing Into Our Lives by Rachel McPherson, founder and executive director of the Good Dog Foundation.

As you travel the road to becoming a therapy dog team, here are some things you can do to prepare yourself and your dog for therapy visits:

What Do Therapy Dogs Practice?


  • Socialize and socialize more. Does your dog seem eager to get attention and affection from all kinds of new people? Notice how your dog responds to a wide range of people, from toddlers and teens to people with beards, people wearing uniforms, or people in wheelchairs.
  • Obedience training. Does your dog respond to your cues reliably when asked to do so? It is of utmost importance that a therapy dog is calm and controlled enough to pay attention and react quickly according to your instruction in any situation. This guarantees safe visits for everyone. Find a reward-based class or trainer in your area. There is no room for harshness or punishment in therapy training or work.
  • Acclimate to new and unusual environments. Does your dog behave in a calm and relaxed manner when you take him to new places? Therapy dogs need to be relaxed around crowds, loud noises, hospital equipment, slippery floors, and other animals.
  • Volunteer on your own at a facility such as a hospital or day program. Find out whether you enjoy talking to and helping people. If you love it, adding your dog to the mix is the easy part!

Copyright © 2010 by Rachel McPherson and Lynn Sonberg. Reprinted by arrangement with Tarcher Books, an imprint of Penguin Group USA, Inc.

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