Therapy Dog Training, Helping the Infirm

The basic definition of a therapy dog is a one that is specifically trained to provide affection, companionship and comfort to people in medical facilities, mental institutions, nursing and retirement homes. The concept of using therapy dogs to assist the comfort and recovery of patients was begun in England during the 1970's by an American Nurse who was working in the health care system there. Brought to America, Elaine Smith started the first formal program for therapy dog training. It was not long before the beneficial affects of therapy dogs was recognized. Medical professionals observed a reduction in stress, lowering of blood pressure and increased positive attitudes of patients that spent time with therapy dogs. This resulted in an increased demand for both therapy dogs and quality therapy dog training.

Unlike other service or working dogs, therapy dogs do not provide direct assistance to a person in need. The dog's primary role is to allow physical contact with strangers. The dog should genuinely enjoy this contact without fear or aggression. Frequently the people the dog will come in contact with will be in wheelchairs or hospital related equipment. The dog must be comfortable being around this equipment especially if it makes unusual sounds. Children are another challenge for therapy dogs. It is not uncommon for a child to run up and hug a dog and unless the dog is trained properly it will respond inappropriately. The dog will most likely experience petting, being laid or jumped on and being picked up. Probably the most important character at therapy dog can have is an even low key temperament. No amount of therapy dog training will change the basic temperment and personality of a dog.

Almost any dog breed can be a candidate for therapy dog training. The breed is not nearly as important as the dog's individual personality traits. The best dogs are friendly, love people, well socialized with both people and animals, gentle and very much at ease in crowded and noisy situations. A good therapy dog candidate must also have completed basic obedience training. The dog must heel, walk with a loose leash, be able to be handled and worked by a stranger, immediately respond to the come, off, whoa, sit, stay and down commands. Formal therapy dog training will require several field trips to various facilities that use and welcome therapy dogs. Trainers will be watching for any warning signs of aggression, fear or unsocial behavior. Since most of the people the dogs will come in contact with are relatively helpless any indication of problems will quickly disqualify the dog from future therapy dog training.

Owning and properly employing a well trained therapy dog will bring a great deal of satisfaction to its owner. Therapy dog training will not only improve the quality of your dog but also provide an increase in the quality of life to lonely, sick, older and infirm people. If you have a dog that meets the basic qualifications and qualities to become a therapy dog then you should contact a qualified trainer. The completion of therapy dog training will open up a whole new world for both the dog and its owner.

James Kesel, MS is the publisher of website. Providing information on dog training and dog training career opportunities.

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