Sophie and Elvis have been working as therapy dogs for about 6 months and I thought it would be a good time to do a post on therapy dogs. As a member of a therapy animal organization, agreements are established with facilities, liability insurance is provided during our visits, and our visits are logged with the organization. As Sophie and Elvis’ handler, my job is twofold: 1- interact with my clients, and 2- be an advocate for my dogs. But when it comes down to it, the welfare of my dogs outweighs the wishes of my clients.
As for being an advocate for my dogs, some of the guidelines include:
Give them a break every 20-30 minutes to relieve themselves;
Be sensitive to signs of stress in the dog;
Be cautious of overheating, especially since many facilities need to keep a relatively high temperature for the residents and patients;
It’s okay to leave after a short period, even as little as five minutes, if the dog is becoming stressed;
The maximum length of a visit should be no more than 2 hours.
My guys spend about two hours every other month doing therapy work at a couple of different facilities, and are always rewarded with a special treat such as chicken strips, a hot dog, or even taquito. The American Kennel Club (AKC) recently added a therapy dog title for AKC registered dogs that perform at least 50 community visits, and it’s great to see therapy dogs recognized in this way. Given that I alternate monthly visits between Sophie and Elvis, I’m looking at about 7 years for their title.
But recognition is the last reason I’d have my dogs do therapy work although there are some who don’t feel the same way. I mean, given the potential high level of stress to your dog during visits, how can anyone boast of “hundreds” of visits a year? Should these owners be using people, who are likely going through the worst time in their life, as tally marks for an award, – well that’s something I would consider downright unconscionable.
However with the right motives and done correctly, therapy and service dogs perform a great service to those whom they serve, whether it’s residents in assisted living centers, ending their lives on hospice, or struggling through rehabilitation. Other aspects of therapy animal service includes grief and grieving programs, prison and juvenile correction facilities, reading programs, and the list goes on. So perhaps if you, like us, have dogs like Elvis and Sophie who are naturally suited for therapy work, or as with Sophie who can no longer hunt, therapy work may be an option.