Just as a human is cut out for some jobs and not others, it is the same for your dog. Sometimes a dog’s temperament precludes him or her from therapy work as he/she would not enjoy it, or it may be that your dog is happy and friendly with those he loves at home but may find other strange, busy environments stressful, feeling frightened or threatened.
You will need to find this out well in advance of ever stepping into a therapy setting like a school, healthcare setting or your own private practice by undertaking a temperament assessment from the age of 18 months when your dog has matured and passed his teenage phase! Please do this for your client's safety and your dog's health and well-being.
If you want to develop a Therapy Dog partnership and be part of the growing number of dogs in the UK bringing positive benefits to people of all ages, there are some things including training that you can do to increase your chances of having a happy confident well mannered dog who feels relaxed and happy working with people in an environment away from home..
1. Attain a good level of basic training from an early age (12 weeks if you have a puppy) to help build the very special bond and understanding you will need with your dog to become a hardworking therapy dog team. Basic training is the best way to help your dog to build his/her confidence with new people and busy environments. Learning to communicate with your dog through coaching and other fun activities like agility, hoopers or man-trailing will also help your relationship to thrive and allow you to intuitively recognise when your dog is telling you he/she is uncomfortable or unhappy in a challenging situation – this is so important when you are with your clients who may be young, elderly or vulnerable to keep everyone safe and happy.
2. Your dog will need to undergo a temperament assessment at the age of 18 months with a fully qualified TDT Trusted Trainer to ensure he/she is suited to the work and to check he/she has reached the silver level of training recommended for therapy dogs working in the UK.
3. Recognise and be aware throughout your journey that your dog may not be suited to the work and be kind to him/her, it is as much about caring for your dog as for the people who will benefit. We have helped hundreds of dogs and guardians through the process and we never let anyone ‘FAIL’ a temperament assessment. If your dog is not cut out for therapy work and is deemed 'UNSUITABLE' at the informal and gentle assessment process with one of our Trusted Trainers, you have proved yourself to be EXCEPTIONAL as a great dog guardian. It shows that you care enough to think of your dog and his/her well-being! Congratulations all round!
So to answer the question, you cannot specifically train a dog to be a therapy dog but YOU as the guardian can be well informed, not only to guide your dog to the recommended silver level of dog training but to understand how best to look out for your dog’s well-being and welfare through the whole therapy dog journey. You will also need to have a good understanding of compliance, insurance, risk assessment and client safeguarding when setting up a safe and effective therapy dog service to protect yourselves and the people you will be working with creating the most magical moments.
If you are considering your own pet dog for visiting therapy work, Therapy Dog Training UK can provide everything you need to certify, assess, and train your dog for a role in an education or healthcare setting or where animal assisted therapy may be helpful for professionals in their private practice. The Therapy Dog Training workshops 1&2 provide essential resources for dog guardians to help them deliver a safe, compliant service as well as 48 bite size video- based tutorials to help bring a companion animal to the recommended silver level working at your own pace and in your own time. Courses are CPD accredited. We have a network of 30 TDT UK trusted trainers throughout the UK where we can help you arrange a temperament assessment and check on any training needs.
Therapy Dog Training UK