Therapy dogs come in all shapes and sizes. They are social interactive dogs trained to work for a handler to provide service and comfort to other people, such as in hospitals, retirement homes, nursing homes, schools, libraries, rehabilitation units, for children with learning disabilities or difficulty with literacy, or they may be trained to support people in stressful situations, such as disaster sites. One thing that all therapy dogs must have in common is temperament. Therapy dogs must be confident, socially open dogs who are friendsly, patient and gentle in all situations.
One common misconception is that a therapy dog is a type of service or assistance dog, this could not be further from the truth. Service dogs are trained to provide a service directly to thier disabled handler, while a therapy dog is trained to provide a service to others working for a handler who may not have a disability at all. Therapy dogs do not share the same public access rights as service dogs and therefore may be denied admittance to public places.
There are essentially three types of therapy dogs employed today. The first type are Tharapeutic Visitation Animals, these are the most commonly used therapy animals. Most often these animals are a family pet who's owner has an interest in sharing the joy of animal companionship with those who may otherwise not have that luxury. Tharapeutic Visitation animals visit places such as hospitals, nursing homes, retirement homes, detention facilities, long term care facilities, and rehabilitation units. Seeing the dogs often lifts the spirits of residents who may have a pet waiting for them at home or they remember a long lost childhood companion. The animals have a way of improving moral and can act as a motivator for therapy, treatments, and recovery. The second type are Animal-Assisted Therapy Animals. These animals are specifically trained to support the efforts of physical rehabilitation and occupational therapists to meet the needs of a person's recovery program. The animals encourage patients to work on fine motor skills, range of motion, balance, and interactive skills. Animal-Assisted Therapy animals are most often used in hospital rehabilatation units, but may be used elsewhere too. The third variety are Facility Therapy Animals, which as the name suggests, normally reside at the facility in which they are employed. Long-term care facilities, nursing homes, alzheimers and psychiatric units are all examples of facilities that frequently benefit from the service of Facility Therapy Animals. These animals are unique in that they gernally don't have one owner/handler but rather they work alongside facility staff working thier magic everyday.
Please remember that our organization does not provide dogs directly to individuals. We do however help individuals to find training professionals who in turn may be able to partner you with a trained dog in your area. It is our hope that this approach will allow us to maintain our position as an unbiased third party organization. Further to this we hope that this approach will simplify the process of locating a quality working dog or skilled trainer to a functional minimum, ultimately allowing you to find a quality service dog in the most timely manner.
Testing and certification for therapy dogs is offered through through various organizations in Canada and the US including St. John's Ambulance and the Delta Society. Many organizations require that therapy dogs start by obtaining a Canine Good Neighbour (CGN) title issued by the Canadian Kennel Club as an indication of thier good manners and basic obedience level before considering them for futher evaluation. Most individual therapy dog groups then have thier testing requirements that the dog-handler team must meet. It is important to ensure that the dog is well socialized and has no environmental sensitivites. The dog must be able to walk on slick or otherwise difficult surfaces, able to handle loud, sudden, or even strange noises; they must not be nervous or frieghtened by assistive devices such as canes, crutches, or wheelchairs; likewise with unusual physical movements or ways of walking, and it is helpful if they enjoy the company of children and the elderly.