A well socialized, loving Portuguese Water Dog makes one of the most suitable, sentient creatures for making therapeutic in-roads in myriad settings. Familiar visit settings for Therapy Dogs include nursing homes, hospitals, and so on. Therapy dogs are also now working within prisons and schools in various programs. Depending on the visit setting and desired outcome, the interactions between canine and person are usually described by different names:
- Animal-Assisted Activities (AAA) – often described as “warm fuzzy” visits – enjoyable experiences interacting with the dogs, but there are not necessarily any specific goals for the visit, and generally there is no documentation of the outcome
- Animal-Assisted Therapy (or Animal-Assisted Intervention) – these terms are generally used when working directly with a therapist (OT, PT, Speech); specific goals are sought, and outcomes are documented
- Private Practice – Many practitioners (Psychologists; Social Workers; etc.) are working their PWDs into their practices
- Crisis Response – there are a few organizations now training for advanced work in Crisis Response (teams who deploy to local/national disasters). Depending on training and certification, Crisis Response teams can be deployed anywhere from school shootings, natural disasters, etc.
- R.E.A.D. – Reading Education Assistance Dogs – this super program requires registration/certification with a program such as TDI, Pet Partners, Project Canine.
There are several National and regional/local dog therapy organizations. Some of the National organizations include Therapy Dogs International
, Therapy Dogs Incorporated
, and Pet Partners (Delta)
. Many PWDCA members are highly involved in the establishment and workings of therapy dog organizations in their own communities. In Washington State, Connecting Canines is the Therapy Dog program of Project Canine
(a WA 501(c)(3). Campus Canines, part of Project Canine, sends teams (approximately 80) to the University of Washington (and other Seattle area Universities and Colleges) residence dorms during finals and other stressful times. After a recent student suicide just days after a visit, Campus Canines teams returned to the residence hall to comfort students.
As a provider of animal assisted activity and therapy visits for 20 years, my best advice for any person interested in becoming involved in therapy work with your dog would be:
- Start EARLY – I start taking puppies out at about 8 weeks (if it’s my own litter – I start at about 6 weeks). As with any other socialization – puppies need to be acclimated early and often to anything they might encounter.
- Affiliate yourself early with a therapy dog organization. It doesn’t matter really which organization you choose, but it should meet your needs. All should include liability insurance for you while you are volunteering. Currently there are no national organizations offering registration/certification prior to one year of age. You might, however, find you can be covered by your homeowners insurance while you are volunteering. You definitely need and want the support of your parent therapy organization. Check out the organizations in your area, and choose the one that meets your goals.
The other thing to familiarize yourself with, whether you are new to Therapy Dog work is how to read stress in your dog (and you). To that end, I would encourage everyone to obtain “The Language of Dogs” DVD by Sarah Kaljnas (her father invented the original Pooper Scooper!). It is an outstanding DVD, and can help extend the therapy visit life of your dog by learning the signs of stress, and respecting them on visits.
And… teams are now eligible to receive Therapy Dog titles from the AKC:
- THDNovice – minimum of 10 visits
- THD – minimum of 50 visits
- THDAdvanced – minimum of 100 visits
- THDX – Excellent – minimum of 200 visits
- THDD – Distinguished Therapy Dog – minimum of 400 visits
Laurie Hardman, Chair
PWDCA Therapy Committee