The process for certifying your dog for therapy work is not as difficult as most people think. There are a number of national therapy dog registration/certification organizations recognized by the American Kennel Club: Therapy Dogs Inc., Therapy Dogs International, and The Delta Society just to name a few. Beyond ensuring that dogs and their human counterparts are fit for therapy work, these organizations provide liability insurance to Animal Assisted Therapy teams that help to protect human handlers in case of unfortunate accidents that may occur in the course of their therapy duties.
Each of these organizations follows the AKC standards for evaluating animal behavior and the animals responsiveness to their handler's commands. There are different standards for small breed and large breed animals, but the foundation is the same. The dogs must be comfortable around other dogs, listen to their handlers commands, allow strangers to pet them, and must walk on a leash without pulling. Large breed dogs need to have a large set of commands that they understand and follow consistently, while small breed dogs, those that can be carried from place to place by their handlers have less stringent requirements.
We chose Therapy Dogs Inc. for our certification for no other reason than they had a number of evaluators in our area that could complete the certification process. Their process involves the handler/dog team passing the handling portion of the test followed by 3 successful supervised visits in the field. Our evaluator scheduled our first meeting at Northern Nevada Medical Center so we could complete the handling portion and the first supervised visit all on the same day.
Rufus put his best paw forward on his handling test and the supervised visit. He had responded very well to my commands and looked like a proud puppy throughout the testing. The evaluator was surprised to hear that we had only been together for a few months and that Rufus was a senior rescue dog. After the handling test, we headed into the hospital for our first of three supervised visits. Rufus did an amazing job comforting patients recovering from surgery and even got a lot of attention from hospital staff.
As much as the patients are in need of comforting, the wonderful doctors, nurses and administrative staff working in this high stress environment benefit from Rufus's presence in the hospital. Many stopped what they were doing and smiled as they saw Rufus strolling down the halls. I even had the chance to talk to a few and extol the virtues of senior dog adoption.
The whole experience was more rewarding than I could have imagined. Our next supervised visit is scheduled for the coming week at a library where young children can read to a therapy dog as part of a literacy program sponsored by Paws 4 Love, a Reno based therapy dog group that my evaluator is a member of. There will be a number of therapy dogs and handlers present to encourage a love for reading and canine companions. I have little doubt that Rufus will shine again and we will be one step closer to our goal of having a Sanctuary Resident certified for Animal Assisted Therapy work.