What makes a good crisis therapy dog? – American Kennel Club

Similar to how dogs have been shown to help their owners feel better, therapy dogs are able to provide comfort and support to the public. Therapy dogs are generally social, yet calm dogs that, after being trained and certified, can, alongside their handler, visit people in schools, hospitals, nursing homes and other environments.

There are also crisis therapy dogs. These are specialized teams of therapy dogs and handlers who travel to crisis areas, such as a grieving community following a natural disaster, mass shooting or other large-scale tragedies.

Since therapy programs with dogs began in the 1980s, dogs have been shown to reduce anxiety, can decrease symptoms of depression, and help people feel safer, more relaxed, and less anxious. . Therapy dogs are especially beneficial for those who have suffered or survived trauma.

Can any dog ​​be a therapy dog?

While your dog can provide comfort and support when you’re upset, not all dogs are made to be crisis therapy dogs. Therapy dogs must have the right temperament coupled with proper training to do their job well.

Crisis response dogs, in particular, need to be able to enter a group or community that has just experienced trauma and provide support and comfort. These dogs must be highly trained and socialized to be comfortable around a wide variety of people and a high volume of petting. They should also be comfortable in crowds and moving around in crowds, be outgoing and comfortable with strangers, but also very calm when meeting people.

These dogs should be comfortable with loud noises, like fireworks or ambulances, and people who are going through trauma, this can sound like catatonic and unresponsive people or people who cry or scream in a loud way. hysterical.

Which breeds are best suited?

When evaluating whether your dog might be a good candidate for crisis response, working temperament is more important than breed. Some programs use specific breeds of dogs like K-9 Comfort Dog Ministry Golden Retrievers, but any breed of dog can do this job.

Some popular therapy dog ​​breeds include:

Just because a breed has a reputation for having an outgoing and calm disposition does not mean that an individual dog will excel or be appropriate for therapy work or crisis support work. A local trainer or therapy dog ​​organization can help you assess your dog’s suitability for this job.

Are you ready to be a manager?

If you want to train your dog to be a therapy dog ​​or crisis support dog, it’s important to ask yourself if this is something you will feel comfortable with. Although your dog does the hard work of comforting people in crisis, as a dog handler you will witness people going through some of the worst times in their lives – and you will likely take it with you.

It can be difficult to observe and not everyone will be comfortable with it. Training and preparing your dog for this job is a serious commitment and it’s important to consider whether you would be comfortable witnessing tragedy and pain up close quietly.

There are options for owners who aren’t comfortable, but have dogs that could excel at therapy work. Therapy dog ​​programs are used in a variety of settings, including some that are less emotionally intense, such as in schools with children learning to read.

Where can I take my therapy dog?

Therapy dogs don’t just show up and do their job. Generally, they are invited to visit hospitals, schools or retirement homes, giving them access to these public places and to these only public places. Only assistance dogs specially trained to assist a person with a disability have public access rights and may accompany their owner/handler in areas that are not generally dog ​​friendly. Even with their vest on, a therapy dog ​​does not get special treatment for being allowed in non-dog-friendly places or on planes without the proper paperwork.

Crisis Therapy Dog Training

Some people start grooming their dogs as puppies for a future in therapy work when they are in their early formative stages, while other dogs find their calling later in life. But dogs must be at least a year old to be certified. Some crisis therapy dogs are owned and trained by organizations that specialize in this work, while others volunteer with their owners.

The training itself is not easy. These dogs find themselves in difficult situations to support grieving and upset children and adults who need to be gentle, social and calm. Training for this job involves honing the natural sociability and stable temperament of these dogs. Dogs learn to be calm and focused when in crowds, to be able to be handled by multiple people, and to interact with people of all ages.

If you want to find out if your dog has the right stable, calm, and outgoing temperament to become a therapy dog, a good place to start is the AKC Canine Good Citizen program. This test does not prepare your dog for the rigorous work of being a therapy dog, but it will give you an indication that you are well on your way to exploring whether your dog has some of the basic mannerisms that will be required for this. work.

Therapy dog ​​organizations across the country also offer training classes and support for owners interested in training their dogs to be certified for this work. These programs provide fitness assessments, certifications, and in some cases training to help dogs be calm and alert in a variety of situations.

Get certified as a therapy dog

If you think you would like to do crisis intervention work with your dog, the first step is to get involved as a therapy dog ​​handler. Therapy dog ​​organizations provide dog certifications and offer them volunteer opportunities to support people and programs in their community, or places across the country in crisis.

If you want to get involved with your dog, look for programs near you that may offer training and certification opportunities. Active working therapy dogs certified by these organizations are also eligible to be recognized with an AKC therapy dog ​​title.

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